If you do a Google search to find the world’s largest solar farm you will find that there are many solar farms that are up and running and many more under construction. Wikipedia lists over 50 solar farms that are over 50 MW, which is great news for the generation of renewable energy. So far, the largest operational solar thermal plant in the world is Ivanpah.
Ivanpah is located in the Mojave Desert of southern California about 40 miles south of Las Vegas. It spans 3,500 acres of public land and generates 392 megawatts (377 megawatts net) which is enough electricity to power 140,000 homes annually. The facility has three power tower units that will almost double the amount of commercial solar thermal energy capacity now operating in the United States. Ivanpah should be fully operational by the end of 2014.
It took almost four years to build Ivanpah. In the process, it created 2,100 jobs for construction workers and support staff, as well as 86 permanent jobs for operations and maintenance employees. In addition, it has generated hundreds of millions of dollars that will go towards state and local taxes. The electricity generated from Ivanpah will benefit our air quality by avoiding the 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide and other air pollutants that coal power plants would have produced every year. This is equivalent to taking 70,000 cars off the road. However, solar farms do not only provide benefits and as many solar farm development companies can share there are risks associated with these projects too.
The Ivanpah solar farm project will have a negative impact on the desert species in the area. As a result, the planning and construction of the facility included measures to protect the desert tortoise, which cost $55,000 per tortoise. In addition, there have been complaints from pilots flying over the area stating that the solar glare from the mirrors is blinding. Finally, there are more dead birds than anticipated now that the plant is running. Scientists think that birds may mistake the sunlight reflected from the mirrors for the reflection off a lake and get burned when they fly too close.