By Kathleen McKevitt – Special to the Pahrump Valley Times
The question on the lips of people all over the world who are closely watching the progress of the new technology engineered at Crescent Dunes Solar Energy project is “How’s Tonopah?”
Site Manager, Brian Painter said, “This is number one.” He said there will be many more such plants in the world.
The science to construct Crescent Dunes has been known for 25 years, according to Painter, but hasn’t seen the light of day until now. Using both private money and Department of Energy funding this literally is rocket science. And it’s happening here in Nevada first. “No one else is using this science,” said Painter.
Solar mirrors called heliostats and numbering in the thousands, are mounted on concrete and steel pedestals circling the 643-foot solar receiver tower in a doughnut shape. The tower is at the center, where piped-in fluid absorbs the heat from the concentrated sunlight directed to it by the heliostats. That fluid is heated to between 500 and 1000 degrees Farenheit.
Each heliostat has a GPS address. The fiber optic technology allows communication between the receiver tower and the individual or collective mirrors so they can be turned to optimum efficiency in gathering the sun’s rays throughout the day.
Solar power, using molten salt as a medium to hold the concentrated heat from the sun, is collected and stored within the system.
It’s not that simple to effect, but it is the simplicity of the science that makes it efficient, clean and entirely free of waste. In fact, nothing is wasted, even the original intake of water from an underground aquifer. After the water is used to create steam to drive the turbine, it is condensed back to water and returned to a holding tank and reused as needed. The same is true of the molten salt which is reused throughout the operation’s lifespan.
There are about 630 workers presently on site. SolarReserve’s agreement with Nye County is to hire 90 percent Nevadans. Other workers come with teams who do specialized engineering and construction work nationally and internationally. It is expected that at its height, 700 workers will be on site during this final year of construction.
“It’s going very fast now,” said Brian Painter. Early development was land preparation, bringing in parts and equipment, hiring, training, security and other elements together. Originally, there was no elevator to the top of the tower, and brothers, Bryan and Randy Kingham climbed the 700 feet to the crane on top, a daunting and exhausting climb.
Now, there are internal elevators that carry the crane operators and maintenance personnel to the top of the receiver, but for the brothers there is still a climb of 60-plus feet to go to work.
American, Karl Hahn, AEC Engineer, and Xabi Fernanblec, Engineer, from Spain, have been with the project for over a year, and talk about their enjoyment and enthusiasm for working on a project “Many of the workers here,” said Painter, “Don’t really know what the finished product will look like, but are great engineers and operators, and skilled workers who just know it’s a good thing and it’s a first.”
The project is a good thing for Nevada. A flow of some 4000 workers in the supply chain will move in and out of Tonopah before construction is completed at the end of 2013.
These people stay over, live, eat, buy products and pay taxes. The on-hand construction crew will be as many as 700 people through the end of the project, also living in and supporting the Tonopah area, and 45-50 full time maintenance crew for the life of the project will also support Tonopah. SolarReserve will pay some $70 million in taxes to the county over a 20-year period.
Adding to the revenue for Nye County are visitors from all over the world who arrive every month from Saudi Arabia, China, South Africa, Chile, and many other international locations and stay in Tonopah when they do.
SolarReserve expects U.S. expansions into Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, but prior to that, the Rice operation in California will go live in 2014, and Spain a year later.
SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith said, “We recognize that the nation and world’s conversion to solar and wind as prominent sources of energy will not happen overnight, but internationally it will grow quickly, adding to the present use of natural gas, nuclear and coal.”
Smith added, “If we see a 25 percent increase in solar energy in the world in the next 10 years, that would be a great outcome.”
Smith’s hope is in 100 years, the nation and the world will be 100 percent renewable energy, including solar.
“At 15 years from now,” said Smith, “California can be 20-25 percent solar, that is 20-25 percent renewable energy in operation, and a 30 percent reduction in fossil fuel emissions.” That means zero carbon emissions 24 hours a day from sun and wind-sponsored energy.
Here, in Nye County, 75,000 homes will be powered with zero carbon emissions. And more dramatic is what is happening elsewhere in the world, especially in Germany, where in the 1980’s West Germany inherited millions of people from East Germany and where fossil fuels had darkened the skies. Now, the opposite is true. Germany’s skies, thanks to their dramatic turn to carbon emission-free energy, are clear. They are now the biggest alternative energy users in the world.
Smith said as this alternative energy supply expands, the costs will come down and as the technology improves, so will efficiency.
Even the Saudi’s, according to Smith, are turning their attention to solar and wind alternatives so they can reserve their oil supplies. Brazil, Chile, and the Middle East are moving rapidly in the direction of sustainable goods and services, as well as alternative energy.
The United States, on the other hand, is lagging. Smith said the sensed need to change is not as acute as in other locations. “Now, however, it is changing, but America still has a short-term view of a long-term problem and needs to establish long-term energy plans.”
“Everywhere I travel, people around the world ask me how Tonopah is doing and how our project is progressing. I tell them, ‘Tonopah has been incredibly supportive of SolarReserve’s activities and is excited to be home to the world’s most advanced solar plant with energy storage. They know how important this technology is, and they are proud to have the Crescent Dunes Plant in their backyard.’”