Solar Power and the Mojave Desert

February 21, 2019

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Photographer: Kathy Arbuckle 
Summary Author: Kathy Arbuckle 

BottomMotorists traveling on Interstate 15 through the California Mojave Desert between Las Vegas, Nevada and Baker, California will no doubt see large, bright structures on huge towers (459 ft or 140 m tall) visible on the west side of the highway. These three towers are part of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (SEGS). Each tower is surrounded by a sea of heliostats -- 173,500 total with a field aperture area of 2,637,200 sq m (652 acres). There are two mirrors per heliostat. These mirror arrays reflect and focus the plentiful sunlight available in the desert onto the collectors that top the towers high above the desert floor, producing heat for generating electric power. I photographed the impressive facility on April 27, 2018. The inset photo at left shows a close up of one the towers.

This technology, built on 3,500 acres of Federal public land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, produces reliable solar power (377 megawatts nominal and 392 megawatts gross) and reduces the carbon dioxide emissions that would result from fossil fuel power-plants. Ivanpah began operation on September 24, 2013. Its peak energy output can provide power for 140,000 homes.

Photo Details: top - Camera: NIKON COOLPIX P90; Software: Nikon Transfer 1.3 W; Exposure Time: 0.0050s (1/201); Aperture: ƒ/4.5; ISO equivalent: 64; Focal Length (35mm): 66. Bottom - same except: Exposure Time: 0.0038s (1/262); Aperture: ƒ/4.0; Focal Length (35mm): 117.