Saturday, March 19, 2016

Ivanpah Solar Plant Capacity Improving

Subtitle:  Solar Capacity Factor Much Better than Nuclear

The Ivanpah solar power plant is in the news and on at least a few blogs, as the annual output has not quite reached the contract minimums.  The California Public Utility Commission, CPUC, extended more time, up to one year, for the plant owner to continue the start-up and fine-tuning of operations.  see link to WSJ article. 
Ivanpah Solar Plant, California
credit: US DOE

What is interesting is the type of comments, and the tone, from some commenters on the blogs.   Using WattsUpWithThat (WUWT) as one example, the tone and comments there deride solar power and call for the shut down of Ivanpah Solar.  Their reasons are quite interesting, given the pro-nuclear bias of many, if not most, of the commenters.  see link

The Ivanpah solar plant has not yet produced the output as required under the Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) that were made with those utilities that purchase the power.   It is notable that the plant is a first-of-a-kind for that technology and size, using thousands of heliostats (adjustable mirrors) to reflect sunshine from the desert floor onto three elevated solar boilers to produce steam.  The steam then runs conventional power plants (one per tower) that use unconventional, air-cooled condensers.   Per the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Invapah Solar produced 45 and 68 percent of required output in 2014 and 2015, respectively.  The plant started up in January, 2014 so those years mark the first two years of operation. 
US Nuclear Reactors - Average Capacity Factor

What is most interesting is the comparison to capacity factor of the US nuclear power plants in their early years.  Capacity factor in this context is the actual annual output of a plant divided by the design output and expressed as a percentage.   Thus, Invanpah Solar had a 45 percent capacity factor in 2014, and 68 percent in 2015, the first year and second year of operation.   Per the Nuclear Energy Institute, see link, the US nuclear reactors had 56 percent capacity factor in 1980, and only 66 percent capacity factor a decade later in 1990.   The US nuclear reactors finally hit 80 percent after another decade (approximately 1999), and leveled out at just over 90 percent from 2001.   In 1980, there were just over 50 nuclear reactors, with at least 10 reactors that had been running for at least a decade.   By 1990, there were just over 100 reactors running but still had only 66 percent capacity factor.   Clearly, the solar thermal plant at 68 percent in its second year is performing better than the entire US nuclear plant fleet did at 66 percent after 20 years operation. 

The double standard is quite obvious, with nuclear plants cheered, even though their capacity factors were dismal for more than two decades.    The solar thermal power plant is somehow different because it has not yet made full capacity after only two full years of operation.    It is a very good thing that the CPUC has sensible people making the decisions, and not the nuclear cheerleaders and solar nay-sayers that comment on WUWT. 

Another area of derision by the WUWT commenters is the Invanpah Solar's financing via a federal Loan Guarantee.  A federal loan guarantee also exists for new nuclear plants, which the WUWT commenters claim is ok for nuclear,  but bad for solar.   Their argument seems to be that the loan guarantee is only in play if the plant defaults, but if it succeeds there is no cost to the government.    Why that is bad for solar but good for nuclear is a complete mystery. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved. 

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