Solar Tower, All 540 Feet, Rises In Nevada Desert

Editor’s Note: We’ve just posted an interview we did in early April 2012 with SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith about his company’s technology. You can read that here.

The gray cylinder rising 540 feet skyward in the Nevada desert looks like a giant smokestack. But it’s actually something quite different—a new kind of tower for a new kind of power plant. The literal centerpiece of the 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant near Tonopah, Nev., the tower was completed this month after workers toiled around the clock since early November, developer SolarReserve said.

Eventually—by the end of 2013, if all goes according to plan—the tower will receive the reflected, concentrated solar heat from thousands of giant heliostats. Some of that heat will then be stored in molten salts and used to generate power after the sun goes down or in cloudy conditions.

image via SolarReserve

image via SolarReserve

“Completion of the solar power tower is a significant milestone not only for SolarReserve and our plant, but also for the solar energy industry as a whole,” Kevin Smith, CEO of SolarReserve, said in a statement. “Our U.S.-developed technology has the ability to store energy for 10-15 hours and solves the issue of intermittent power generation to the grid, the number one limitation to other solar and wind renewable energy technologies. We can deliver electricity ‘on demand’ the same way a coal, natural gas or nuclear fueled plant does – but without emitting any harmful pollution or hazardous materials.”

There are other so-called power-tower plants around the world, but none in the United States. And when Crescent Dunes is completed, it will be the largest of its type in the world, SolarReserve said.

The plant is going in on Bureau of Land Management property about midway between Las Vegas and Reno, a good deal north of where most of the other big solar projects are set to go in. There was some early opposition to the plant from the Air Force, which feared it might disrupt operations at a nearby test range. But accommodations were reached and the plant won approval from the Obama administration, then nabbed a $737 million loan guarantee through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Section 1705 program.

While SolarReserve claims a leadership role in the development of solar thermal plants that have energy-storage capability U.S., it’s not the only company moving in that direction. BrightSource, which is currently developing the Ivanpah plant in the Mojave Desert without energy storage, is eyeing using the technology at two California sites — Siberia and Sonoran West — that are “in the development stage” and could possibly go online by 2016 or so.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, Abengoa—with the help of a $1.45 billion U.S. loan guarantee—is building the Solana Generating Station (pictured above). The company is going with parabolic trough technology instead of the power tower setup, but the company says it will have six hours of molten salt storage. The company is predicting the plant will be operating by 2013, producing up to 280 MW of power.

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

    • Green Group

      This sounds great!  I especially like the non-tower form.  I’ll have to look up this parabolic design – never heard of it before!

    • STUPOT1

      Take note of the Taxpayer loans or loan guarentees.  That tells you something.

    • http://www.nosocialism.com/ NoSocialism.com

      I wonder how many factories had to close, in order to keep our Corporate Tax rate the highest in the world, so that this project could get funding.  Well, let’s see so far we’ve been closing about a THOUSAND factories per year over the past 30 years.  Each employing an average of 500 employees.  I’m sure they ALL appreciate the Government WISELY spending THEIR money.

      • Lance

        I suspect far fewer factories had to close due to this than maintaining a military presence in the middle east to keep the oil flowing (well, at least the military can now employ thousands of soldiers, putting them in harm’s way and keeping them away from their families).

        You know, I’m with you on the whole government spending money wisely.  I have certainly seen a lot of wasteful spending.  But I have to ask you, what specifically is unwise about a project such as these that will generate hundreds of megawatts of zero emission and essentially free (once the building cost is amortized) electricity?  Would you prefer that we continue to send billions of dollars of our hard-earned money off-shore?

        • crescentfang

          It isn’t likely to be “free”.  The solar cell farm put up at Beverly High School in the 70’s has been idle and disconnected for years because it cost far more to maintain than the power was worth.  I’m helping develop manufacturing equipment for solar cells that will help improve their efficiency but, even at the theoretical limit on efficiency they aren’t an economic source of power.  Nuclear power is the closest to “free”.

          • DACrea

            I have seen a very interesting chart of the cost of power generation from all plants in NY state, and in general, Hydro is 1 cent/kWh, and Nuclear is 2 cents/kWh, and everything else far-higher up to about 32 c/kWh for some part-time residual-oil plants.  Yet Nuclear is neglected for 30 years by the Dept. of.Energy idiots, so we can ship our $ to Middle East coutries who don’t like us at all.  There are some cases where Democracy works well for decision-making, but allowing ‘pressure-groups’ to overly-influence making good economical/technical decisions is NOT a place for democracy,  Rather, it is a place for ‘EXECUTIVE BUSINESS MANAGERIAL DECISION-MAKING’.  When you let politics enter the arena of what SHOULD BE rational decision-making, all you get is trouble and dysfunction.

            • mym67

              What was your source? Most of the cost-analysis I have read (DoE, etc.) include the taxpayer subsidies.  If you take out public funding, some of the ‘cheap’ energy sources (BTW that includes fossil fuels) takes quite a jump.  

            • http://www.facebook.com/dacrea David Crea

              I hope this works to show the Marginal Power Cost chart well; below is the title and attribution/source:

              Figure 10: Breakdown of NYISO supply by generation type and chart of marginal cost of various
              generation sources. (Source: NYISO and CES, 2009)
              (From: PROPOSAL TO U.S. DOE — Advanced CAES Demonstration 150MW Plant Using an Existing Salt Cavern, August 26, 2009, by Energy East Corporation)

          • The Bopper

             Who’d have “thunk” it, 1970’s technology not as efficient as 2012 technology. I’m thinking your really not in the field of solar, there has been amazing increases in efficiency in the last year or 2 AND the fuel you use in them are—FREE, and never have to be buried or cost offset with pollution controls.

            • crescentfang

               So why does the copy of “Photon” in my hand talk about nothing but feed in tariffs, mandates, and other schemes for forcing the consumer to pay vastly more for solar power?  The whole premise is that these things are uneconomic and no one will buy them unless they are forced to or someone else is paying the bill.  The politics here is as corrupt as it gets.

          • http://www.facebook.com/tim.russell.165033 Tim Russell

            You’re comparing 1970’s tech to today…?

      • Louise H Mowder

        To what do you attribute the closing of a thousand factories – the US government, which has been mainly in Republican hands over the past 30 years? The government didn’t order the closing of the factories; the corporations that owned them did. It seems that those corporate leaders didn’t give a crasp about the men and women who had worked their lives out for them, or for the damage it would do to the communities that they had been a part of.

        What might some other, more major reasons have been that all those US factories closed?  Global competition? NAFTA? The economic decisions of the plant owners themselves, who believed it was cheaper to hire foreign workers laboring in near-slavery and penury instead of well-educated, well-paid American workers? :Labor unions, who demanded and received a living wage and safe working conditions for their members?

        Your comment makes no sense. All it shows is that you hate the US government. Why should anyone care bout the angry opinion of a man with no facts to back him up?

      • Robert-Wants-a-Future

         Further proof that capitalism is backward and anti-environmental. 10 jobs now is 10 millions lives later. Don’t be as shortsighted as misleading right-wing media.

        Products produced through dirty energy should be prohibit from sale worldwide. Companies that produce  po;ution shouldn’t be allowed to profit in any form, and should be required to hire more workers and pay them more without option of going bankrupt. If they run out of money take it from the CEOs, present and previous, until they’re taught a lesson about using only clean energy. As soon as it hits them in their cash flow they will suddenly turn around and only use clean energy.

        They use jobs now as a way to manipulate the television programmed hordes.

        Turn off your TV. You’re supporting ignorance and worldwide suicide of the human race.

      • JohnAdams

        The same type of project has been proposed in Australia, without the need for 1000s of factories to close…and that’s from a country with a public healthcare system and a decent, federally funded education system.  I think you need to look more closely at your closed-minded ideas of socialism, because your capitalism is what is causing factories to close.  If things can be made cheaper in China, then that’s what capitalism says should happen…Governments need to invest in this type of project to prove its viability.  They only need to do it once and then private companies, seeing the benefits, will jump on board.

      • moderatefr

        No Socialism means no military, no cops, no firemen, no government at all. That’s otherwise called anarchy. Is anarchy the essence of the tea party movement or so called republicans?

        On another note, your comment is so shortsighted it should not deserve any reply.

      • The Bopper

          SO I’m guessing the recent report that the ACTUAL U.S. corporate tax rate is 4th lowest in the world means–you’re wrong. Pretending that at least and noted time and time again, while the U.S. has a high
        statutory corporate tax rate (meaning the rate on paper), U.S.
        corporations actually pay incredibly low taxes due to the
        ever-proliferating loopholes, credits, and deductions in the tax code
        and the use of overseas tax havens.
        U.S. corporate taxes that were actually paid (the effective rate) fell to a 40 year low of 12.1 percent in fiscal year 2011.
        Corporatist moving their factories to next to slave wage countries isn’t the “governments” fault, it’s the pure greed of corporations and we do NOTE, who wants to continue it..

    • 1monstermustache1

      It just needs a set o fballs to go with it. 

    • SAWolf

      The HORIZONTAL version of this technology utilize much less expensive flat mirrors arranged to approximate a parabolic curve. barry always backs the wrong technological endeavors because essentially, he is an idiot. Another example , small start up, employing quantum dots in a unique manner to yield 45% efficiency for their photovoltaic panels and he backs solyndra.

      • Capt36

        Excuse me for thinking you are a slow learner… But, gov’t funded projects like this one, are the basis for new technologies, and JOBS!
        Of course, not all of the ‘crazy’ projects work. But, we LEARN from them. DARPA projects created the Internet. But, you would never give the Gov’t fair credit for it! You slam every effort of Obama, and the Feds, without ‘looking to the future’ of those efforts.
        I seriously doubt that you, personally, have created anything that would help ‘us’ in the future. You probably drive a gas-hog, and run the water while brushing your teeth….lol
        Your ‘tunnel-vision’ is a slight on the American way…. Now, go smoke your Cuban cigar, and fume away…..

        • SAWolf

          You can think what you desire, you are FREE in the USA to do so.This project is NOT crazy, just dated. The Horizontal Version is MUCH less expensive and quite a bit easier to implement, being much more elegant than the vertical paradigm, developed first in Spain. I also very much agree that government invest in our future with basic research, as I’m a Scientist. What is horribly depressing is that at The University of Buffalo, employing Q BIC’s via selectively doping the cells,the electrons are repelled and previously stated efficiencies are reported, this is extraordinary and MUST be funded. What barry did through his complete misunderstanding of Economics, employing COMMAND ECONOMY methodologies, was to squander quite a bit of useful taxpayer funds on a company that had no capability to be successful. Oh yeah, my Honda Civic, sits unused as I walk 52 miles/week as part of a strategy to inhibit degradation due to physiological aging. Mostly walk to the University as I’m earning my 4th undergrad. The multidisciplinary approach to Science is really quite formidable.

          • Capt36

            touché

        • Wonderboy

          There is not enough land area in the US for these sorts of installation to effectively replace current sources of electricity. Anybody with any sense would see that the Obama administration has been run by a bunch of idiots who can’t grasp what Is viable economically and environmentally. People need to realize the huge environmental impact these installations have especially with regards to permanently displaced land area.

    • crescentfang

      No mention of how expensive the power from the installation is going to be.  I assume that means that the power companies will be forced to buy the power and pass the cost on to the consumer.  It would be nice to know.  Cape Wind here in Massachusetts sells power to the utilities fro twice what the utilities charge their customers for electricity and that doesn’t consider the utilities costs of distribution, backup plants for when the wind is not blowing, etc.  Windmills are the cheapest “green energy” as far as I know.  The scheme described here is the one that caused Spain to give up on “green energy” incentives.

      • pdxpete

        According to a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the 25-year power purchase agreement between the Crescent Dunes developer and NV Energy calls for the utility to pay 13.5 cents per kilowatt-hour for the power. Nevada has a renewable portfolio standard that gradually ratchets up the proportion of energy its utilities must acquire from renewable sources, finally hitting 25 percent by 2025. This does compel utilities to find renewable energy sources, but it’s up to the utilities as far as what specific projects they contract with. Spain used a different mechanism, a feed-in tariff, to drive renewables development. Basically, this sets a guaranteed price for power depending on the source. This resulted in the development of a good deal of solar, including some concentrating solar projects like Crescent Dunes, but wind was a much bigger part of the picture. Spain is fourth in the world in installed wind capacity and wind was the source of 16 percent of the country’s electricity in 2010. In fact, on some days wind has met more than half the electricity demand in Spain.
        (Pete Danko, EarthTechling)

        • http://www.facebook.com/dacrea David Crea

          What you describe for Nevada is distinctly NOT ‘free-market’, but heavy-handed government-intrusion for the sake of ‘green ideology at ANY cost!’.  Let Free Markets choose the winning technologies based upon low-cost to deliver a product, and ALL consumers are then winners.  Not just the chosen favored-supportees with heads in pig-slop-trough of government-dole.   

          And if a few suckers want to spend more of THEIR OWN $ to feel good because they are buying 100 kWh/month of supposed ‘green’ power, that is a Free-Market choice they make, and is NOT imposed on the community-at-large. That is what ‘individual freedom of choice’ is about–the INDIVIDUAL making a choice, not a government ‘elite decision-maker’ functionary. 

          • Pete Danko

            I agree, it is not a free market.

            • AZ sun

               Show me an example of a purely free market system that works equitably and i’ll have a bridge to sell you at a bargain price.

            • Pete Danko

              I agree, free markets are extremely rare. This is especially true in energy, and almost always true with electricity, which overwhelmingly is sold to us by regulated utilities.

    • http://musclebai.myopenid.com/ mb
    • http://profile.yahoo.com/HYXU2EBRQ6MPHR3QSTOOCKYU2M Yiddish

      In the context of astronomy, is a structure used to support equipment for studying the sun, and is typically part of solar telescope designs.

    • mhutch0301

      Question: What does “The Market” say about these technologies? I thought it was “The Market” that ultimately decides the viability of these kinds of things – isn’t that what we’ve been hearing for the entire Repub nomination campaign? Me, I’m just glad to see that SOME effort is being made finally by private companies to develop serious alternatives to eventually lessen our dependence on foreign oil. And, as there is likely no single silver bullet that will resolve our oil dependence issue, we ought to be looking at ALL alternatives. Just because some technology appears too expensive right now doesn’t mean it won’t be a vital piece of energy generation in the future.

    • Mordrud

      I hope Kevin Smith isn’t putting Jason Mewes in charge of this project….

    • Mordrud

      Maybe this one tower could offset the amount of fossil fuel wasted every year by NASCAR making cars turn left for 3 hours?  Think of it as the Saving NASCAR project.
      I can’t believe with gas prices over 4 bucks a barrel that anyone would object to new energy efforts.  People suck.

      • Wonderboy

        No one objects to new VIABLE energy efforts. What we object to is the waste of tax payer dollars to fund these boondoggles in the desert. I have no problem with some rich idiot throwing his own cash away on such a project, but I do object to government funding and the elimination of risk. I also object to the extreme damage such plants do to the environment, effectively per neatly removing significant land mass from the ecosystem with little in the way of an energy return for that land mass.

        We really need to become much smarter about our future with regards to energy. The only way to do that is through diversity. However such diversity should not be allowed to destroy what little land area we have left nor should it require massive government subsidies for the tiny amount of power we will get from such systems.

    • Kver

      While stuff like this is “neat” it isn’t a “one size” fits all that leads to efficiency or economy. I hardly think this technology is possible in Alaska or the cloudy east coast. I would suggest that a much more efficient use of research dollars goes to LFTR, which has the potential for inexhaustible nuclear power without the need to store toxic wastes for more than 300 years ( vs. 1000’s). Look up “LFTR in five minutes” on youtube.

    • Jafo2012

      This is insane. Its all just a means to an end to pad everyone who has been tied to bush and obama. It will never change unless we the american people change it.

    • beefrank

      The whole ‘clean’ energy is a hoax since oil and coal are just as natural and ‘clean’ as solar plus being less expensive to convert to energy and other byproducts.  Oil rigs are less intrusive and look better than this phallic symbol in the middle of the desert.  It is a big FU to progress and a salute for progressive liberal politics.

    • Bugussall

      THE REPUBLICAN CRIMINAL’S ARE THE REASON THAT MOST OF THESE JOB’S WHERE SENT TO CHINA AND INDIA FOR THE LAST 30 YEARS STARTING WITH R.REAGAN AND HIS INEPT HANDLING OF THE AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER STRIKE AND IT’S BEEN GETTING WORSE BECAUSE OF THESE GREEDY OLD PIG’S EVER SINCE!!!!! BELIEVE ME YOU DO NOT WANT A PERSON LIKE ROMNEY IN THE WHITE HOUSE!!!!! THESE GREEDY OLD PIG’S HAVE DONE ENOUGH DAMAGE TO THIS COUNTRY FOR THE LAST 30 YEARS!!!!!!  

      • franklovesfl

        “THE REPUBLICAN CRIMINAL” — Wow — you sound nuts.

      • Jcarter

        You are a nut-job.

      • Info

         You are so right.

      • bleen

        Before you post, please study the proper use of the apostrophe, and remember to turn off the “caps lock” key

      • http://twitter.com/Sailing_J Sailing J

        Take another hit off your bong professional college student. Your 20 something year old classmates are laughing at your old @$$

        • Almost Bled-Out Taxpayer

          I’m guessing ‘college student’ might be too-presumptive.  Sounds like just a professional-complainer that has lots of time-on-hand because, strangely-enough, no one wants to hire because of ‘attitude’. (And far too much bonging!)

      • archimboldo

        Obama, is that you?

    • Dagrinchi

      Why must we all bicker on pro’s and con’s of alternative energy. Install solar and wind devices to our homes and buisinesses, creatingm the energy where its needed. Thus eliminating the need to transport energy over long distances. Start small and evetually only big corperations will be tied into the grid. Make oneself as self efficient as possible and get over it. If you are not part of the solution, then your part of the problem. Only by taking that first step will one get there.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Miltz/100000710679441 Tim Miltz

      The proper optic on solar is to realize the Sun is one serious nuclear fusion reactor not so far away – always giving off not only energy, but when they go super nova ? Suns even produce all the atoms we are made of – everything.

      So, the Egyptians were correct to worship the Sun, these who ignore solar energy are missing out on tapping the nearest largest nuclear fusion reactor we don’t even have to maintain.

      I’ve done my math here.

      Have you ? 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Miltz/100000710679441 Tim Miltz

      Let’s see-   the Sun provides photons for photo synthesis –  all life is dependent on the Sun.

      So when it comes to energy ? Even coal and oil are pent up photonic reserves in carbon sinks, so why should tapping the photons directly from the Sun be such a lousy idea ? 

      I guess limited carbon sinks are more profitable.

      I write off these last 70 years as lost to corporate energy profiteering at a complete disregard to health- healthy air to breath – water to drink – and if you really love gasoline so much – ask yourself how many feet would you place your newborn to a car exhaust pipe ? 1 foot ? Don’t think so, how about 2 ? Still too close ? How about leaving their bedroom window open as the cars drive by at 30 feet ? Ah- 30 feet is far enough not to care.

      I see.

      • http://twitter.com/Sailing_J Sailing J

        If you can produce a car, a plane, a train or a boat that runs on the sun, runs well and that people can afford, then they will buy it. Until then how about you STFU with your “you must hate the earth and clean air because you depend on fossil fuels”. And while you’re at it, take your dribble to the Chinese, Indian, Russian and Middle Eastern people instead of a country that has the  most stringent environmental regulations on the planet.

        • Almost Bled-Out Taxpayer

          Hear-Hear! and Hip-Hip Horay! for condensing my own thoughts so well!

          Obviously, from the practical engineering perspective, the energy-issue is one of CONCENTRATION!  Solar energy is diffuse, and its arrival unsteady over 24 hours at best, and overall ‘unpredictable’ due to weather.  It is only ‘predictable’ as a longer-term average. 

          Coal and all hydrocarbons are solar-energy accumulated over LONG PERIODS and CONCENTRATED, ready to be used at-will by the user, NOT at the whim of the time-of-day or the weather.

          Drill and frack as-needed to deliver serious WORKING ENERGY, not just ‘play energy’.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Miltz/100000710679441 Tim Miltz

      Coal and Oil ARE Solar – it’s just indirect.

      Coal and oil gain their energy from photons from the sun via photo synthesis.

      Carbon acts as a photonic battery – plain and simple.

      NOW – Once you set the stage correct and state that coal and oil ARE Solar ? 

      You can NOW say they are POOR solar energy choices.

      That’s all – and they are.

      The coal and oil profiteers would have you get side tracked with a misconstrued argument that coal and oil are not solar -when indeed they are – just a longer process.

      Of COURSE those with drilling rights with the corporate lawyers and lobbyists to governments wouldn’t want to give up the gravy train on profits for something they simply collect by proxy of drilling/mining rights.

      • Johnj

        Please take your argument a little further and understand that most energy is nuclear energy. (Tidal is one example of not.)

    • Nevadaslim2

      You see alot of comments about cost effectivness but there are a ton of hidden costs associated with fossil fuels-global warming(not a myth),pollution,both in burning & extraction,which in turn creates a noxious environment for flora & fauna alike.We must pursue alternatives.Keep in mind that new technology is always more expensive but as it gets more refined & available,it gets better AND cheaper.Thanks for reading my rant.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003084949605 Crash Gear

      More wasted money just like Solyndra… When will these Libtards learn… I guess never..

    • Mwgts

      This project has been in the works for over 12 years and it is being held up by the US Govt. There is a military base nearby.  To LouiseM, the Republicans did not have control of the house for 40 years prior to 1994 and they were in power during a Democrat President.

    • Gary Vesperman

      Last month I uploaded my compilation of 130 Electrical Energy Innovations into my website http://www.padrak.com/vesperman along with a half-dozen supporting documents. It ought to make more sense to divert a SMALL percentage of the billions being spent on solar, wind, nuclear, and fossil fuels into developing clean new energy inventions. 

    • Jarm1948

       http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_roadway