Mirrors start fire at world's largest solar plant

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California had to be shut down

ivanpah solar power plant CSP

One of the boiler towers at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating facility. The concetrated solar power plant heats a boiler at the top of the tower to create steam, which runs a turbine.

Credit: NRG Energy

One of the world's largest solar power plants had to be shut down after a fire started by mirrors on a 452-ft high water boiler tower melted steam ducts and water pipes.

The fire at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California forced firefighters to climb 300 feet up the tower to a water boiler that's superheated by tens of thousands of mirror to create steam to run a turbine.

According to an AP report, San Bernardino County fire Capt. Mike McClintock said the small fire occurred about two-thirds of the way up the boiler tower. It was caused after some of the plant's mirrors became misaligned and focused the sun's rays on electrical cables, which caught fire.

The fire occurred about two-thirds of the way up the Unit 3 tower, according to a spokesman from the Nevada's Clark County Fire Department, which also responded.

NRG Energy, which operates the Ivanpah facility, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ivanpah solar power plant San Bernardino County Fire Department

Damage caused by the fire at the solar power plant. The fire burned for about 20 minutes, according to AP.

According to the AP report, the fire burned for about 20 minutes, and Ivanpah plant personnel had the fire out before firefighters arrived.

When it opened in February 2014, the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility was the world's largest Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant. Instead of using photovoltaics, which convert solar energy into direct current using semiconductor materials, CSP plants generate electricity in much the same way as conventional fossil fuel power plants do, by boiling water into steam, which then drives a electric turbine.

At the Ivanpah Solar Plant, more than 350,000 software-controlled mirrors track the sun in two dimensions and reflect sunlight to boilers that sit atop three 459-foot-tall towers. When the concentrated sunlight strikes boiler pipes on the towers, it heats water to create superheated steam.

The $2.2 billion plant will be dwarfed by the $9 billion Noor CSP when it's finished in 2018. In February, phase 1 of the Noor CSP went on line. Located in the Souss-Massa-Drâa area in Morocco, the plant's mirrors focus on molten salt, heating it anywhere from 300 degrees to 660 degrees Fahrenheit, which allows for the production of electricity even at night.

Noor CSP ACWA Power

Two of three units at the the $9 billion Noor CSP located in the Souss-Massa-Drâa area in Morocco. The plant heats molten salt as opposed to water.

This story, "Mirrors start fire at world's largest solar plant" was originally published by Computerworld.

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