Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Big & hot in the Mojave desert at Brightsource's Ivanpah project

Got out to Brightsource's Ivanpah energy project yesterday, just near the state border, in eastern San Bernardino county.  Everything about Ivanpah is big: it'll double the amount of solar thermal energy available in the US when it's done, and a lot of it will come to southern California via Edison. (It's also big-unpopular with desert conservation activists in southern California; we'll talk about that another time.)

That picture, above, is from the rental car -  the temperature when I got to the parking lot near Primm. Didn't feel quite like that - but I drank 2 liters of water, so that probably helped. Also, the breeze. 

I should say up front it was a pretty controlled experience - part of it necessarily - as it's an enormous and active construction site - part of it corporate preference. Educational, still, and all, en route to the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 that I'll catch up to today. 

Two quick thoughts: 

  1. The topic of the day was job creation: Brightsource touted its peak job creation at 1300-1400 jobs;  they've got more than 460 guys building solar thermal towers now.  I was a California reporter among mostly Nevadans (along with one of my public radio colleagues from up north, Climate Watch at KQED). Nevada reporters' great interest was, how many of these jobs are ours? (meaning the Silver State…) The answer for those employed directly - about 10 percent Nevadans, and 90 percent hired through San Bernardino and Riverside's building and trade council. Nevada reporters didn't seem to like this very much, as they tried to find a story. Subcontractors employ plenty of their folks - and I talked to at least one guy, whose family lives in San Diego - he lives 3 days a week in Las Vegas. According to several people I spoke to in the trades Monday, that's not that weird of a commute to get a job. 
  2. If there's a trend toward replacing large-scale parabolic solar or solar thermal with photovoltaic panels, Brightsource is bucking it. Solar Millenium's switch to PV was made, the company says, because it pencils out better. Some have speculated not only that the Blythe project's part of a trend, but also that the trend signals PV is taking deeper root over solar thermal. Brightsource was emphatic with us Monday: its officials don't see the math changing that much. A specific breakdown of costs for its $2.2. billion dollar project may change for any number of reasons that large projects change - but that's not what Brightsource expects to happen. 

More about all this later. 


(Brightsource model picture by jurvetson via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.)