Robots & Machines

Shutdown of World’s Largest Solar Plant After Mirror Fire

The fire is an additional problem for the Ivanpah plant, which is already under threat of being shut down for its deficiencies in output performance.

Wrong Angles Cause Huge Disaster

A small fire caused one tower to be shut down at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California, 9:30am Thursday, May 9. While officials declined to comment before investigation is completed, San Bernardino County Fire Department captain Mike McClintock believes misaligned mirrors were to blame.

Plant personnel had to climb some 300 feet up the tower to get to the fire but successfully managed to put out the fire within 20 minutes, before the firefighters could get to the scene.

Source: San Bernardino County Fire Department

The plant produces power by using computer-controlled mirrors to reflect sunlight onto boilers, which produce steam that drive turbines, producing electricity. Firefighters believe some mirrors were mistakenly aligned to direct the sunlight onto a different level on the third unit, and the intense heat caused some electrical cables to catch fire.

Facility On Thin Ice

The plant, located on federal land in the Mojave Desert about 45 miles southwest of Las Vegas, opened two years ago and has the capacity to power 140,000 homes in California. Apart from the burnt tower, a second tower is down for maintenance, leaving it running on only one of its three towers. It has not yet been made clear how this will affect California’s power supply, and until when. There is also no information made public as to the cost of damages to the $2.2 billion power facility as of now.

Ivanpah’s three towers.

Ivanpah is already walking on thin ice as the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has given them only until the end of July this year to deliver the output required of them in its power purchase agreement (PPA), which energy company and Ivanpah part owner NRG says they are not likely to meet.


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