Ivanpah Tower Design Competition Heats Up

Construction on the massive Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert near the Nevada-California border is well under way. Now, according to Designboom, the Swiss-based firm Rafaa has offered up two stylish designs for the towers at the center of BrightSource Energy’s “LPT” system.

The planned 4,000 acre, $2.2 billion Ivanpah plant, with a generating capacity of 392 megawatts, will use solar thermal technology. With a solar thermal plant, the power of the sun is focused by mirrors, known as heliostats, on boilers in centralized towers. Water is transformed into steam which in turns drives energy-producing turbines. At Ivanpah, the plan is for 173,500 heliostats to be arrayed around three towers.

Ivanpah tower design, Rafaa

image via Rafaa

Zurich-based Rafaa, in collaboration with engineering consulting firm Schlaich, Bergermann Und Partner, has offered two designs in a competition to finalize the tower architecture – a twisted linear-based “option a” (pictured above) and the cylindrical honeycombed “option b” (below).

image via Rafaa

The towers will stand 450 feet. Construction of the plant is expected to be completed in 2013. When the BrightSource plant goes online it is expected to generate enough electricity to power 140,000 homes. Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric are scheduled to buy energy from the plant. Updates on the plant’s construction progress are available here from BrightSource.

Steve Duda lives in West Seattle, WA with three dogs and a lot of outdoor gear. A part-time fly fishing fishing guide and full-time writer, Steve’s work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Seattle Weekly, American Angler, Fly Fish Journal, The Drake, Democracy Now! and many others.


  • Reply September 7, 2011

    Jonathon Black

    Where does the water come from? In the Mojave Desert it would be brought in from the already highly taxed Colorado river. This isn’t a very green technology unless it is a closed loop system? Why care about how stylish the towers are? There seems to be unanswered environmental questions.

    • Reply November 15, 2011

      Pete Danko

      Jonathon: Please see my comment above in reply. Thanks, Pete

  • Reply September 21, 2011

    Kevin Raj Inder Haley

    here comes the sun……n

  • Reply November 15, 2011

    Pete Danko

    Jonathon Black:nnMy apologies for noticing your comment two months after your posted it. You raise an important issue regarding the environmental impact of the plant and, specifically, its use of water. Typically with concentrating solar, the big water use comes in condenser cooling (there is also some water use to clean the mirrors, but that’s apparently minimal in comparison, and ancillary use for staff, etc., is small, since these plants, once built, require very few employees).One of the reasons power tower systems are preferred over other CSP and over PV is that, because the systems operate at higher temperatures, at large scale they can use dry-cooling without as much loss in efficiency. According to filings with California energy regulators (http://www.energy.ca.gov/sitingcases/ivanpah/index.html) the Ivanpah plant will indeed use dry cooling. A DOE report to Congress (http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/pdfs/csp_water_study.pdf) stated thatu00a0dry cooling can reduce water use by, on average, 90 percent. The California filings indicate that Ivanpah will use 100 acre feet of water per year — about the amount of water that 100 suburban households would use annually — which will be drawn from a well on the site.There will be a price — literally — to pay for using less water at Ivanpah. While the power-tower system is more amenable to dry cooling than parabolic trough, the DOE estimates that on the hottest afternoons — when electrical demand is highest — plant performance will fall byu00a06.3 percent because the hot ambient air will be less efficient cooling the consdensers. “If electricity is priced very high during those periods, the financialu00a0impact could be significant,” the report said. Also, while the nominal cost of such systems is not given, the report notes that dry-cooling systems are three times as expensive as wet-cooling systems.Pete

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