The world's largest solar thermal power plant

The world's largest solar thermal power plant is now online in California and can provide enough power for 140,000 homes.

Video source: CNNMoney / YouTube.

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JASON SANCHEZ, CNN MONEY: At first glance, it looks like an oasis in the middle of the Mojave Desert. But the sea of blue is actually the work of more than 170,000 mirrors, each one reflecting the sun's energy onto one of three 459-foot towers.

THOMAS DOYLE, CEO, NRG SOLAR: This is the largest concentrated solar thermal project in the world.

SANCHEZ: The Ivanpah Solar Thermal Plant sits on 3500 acres of desert, nestled inbetween the Clark Mountains and Interstate 15, between the California-Nevada border. And it's every bit as large as it's made out to be.

DOYLE: It's actually three projects on this site, in total 392 megawatts. The project will eliminate 400,000 tons of carbon emissions. That's like taking 72,500 cars off the road.

SANCHEZ: NRG says the 392 megawatts equates to enough power for 140,000 homes, or roughly the population of Pasadena, California. Now the solar panels used at Ivanpah aren't the photovoltaic kind you might see on a rooftop. These panels follow the path of the sun throughout the day and reflect its heat onto steam generators located at the top of the towers.

DOYLE: There are benefits to solar thermal over photovoltaic. I think the most important one is it's less disruptive to the grid, because when you lose sunlight, this project will slowly come offline, where photovoltaics almost immediately come offline.

SANCHEZ: A big project like Ivanpah comes with a hefty pricetag: 2 billion dollars. And it got a sizeable assist from the federal government to make it work.

DOYLE: So the way this project was financed, because it's an innovative technology it would have been very difficult to obtain bank debt. So the project received a $1.6 million dollar DOE loan guarantee. And if it weren't for that loan guarantee, we wouldn't be standing here today celebrating the Ivanpah project.

SANCHEZ: While Ivanpah is currently the biggest solar project in terms of energy output, it's not likely to hold that title for long. Mid-American Solar is currently working on a solar plant that will output nearly 1 and a half times the 392 megawatts that Ivanpah generates.

Jason Sanchez, CNN Money, Ivanpah, California.

Concentrating solar thermal

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