Tonopah solar plant No. 1 for energy storage


TONOPAH - Though the announcement that a second Nye County solar plant is in the works was the national headline at SolarReserves’s recent solar celebration near Tonopah, the event also provided a behind-the-scenes look at the Crescent Dunes solar plant off Gabbs Pole Line Road.

The Crescent Dunes facility, which came online this past winter, focuses on energy storage.

“We actually can store 10 hours of electricity for 75,000 people,” SolarReserve Chief Executive Officer Kevin B. Smith said in his presentation. “Every single day, we’re storing that energy, and we’re utilizing it and moving that energy around.”

“The key to our technology here, what makes this project unique, is all about energy storage,” Smith said. “One of the difficulties that we have in incorporating renewable energy into the existing grids is the intermittency that you see with wind and solar (photovoltaics).”

Power availability

Already, the Tonopah area’s solar plant ranks as the world’s largest energy storage project.

“If you look at battery storage, the storage that’s out here is essentially the amount of energy storage in utility-scale batteries for the entire world combined,” Smith said. “Every single day, we charge it. Every single day, we discharge that electricity.”

With its opening, solar energy is available beyond daylight hours.

“It can provide reliable energy 24 hours a day as required,” Smith said of the technology featured at Crescent Dunes, where construction started in 2011.

“This project that you’re looking at is the first of its kind at full utility scale,” he said, estimating that Crescent Dunes is five to 10 times bigger than anything else built like it in the world.

The “Holy Grail” in the energy sector is energy storage, said Smith of Santa Monica, California-based SolarReserve.

“We believe we found it here in this technology, and we’re looking to advance this technology and provide projects like this around the world,” he said.

“This project is now the leading technology for energy storage around the world,” Smith added. “So we went from a few years ago to the U.S. trying to play a bit of catch-up with what’s happening in the energy markets to now this is the No. 1 energy storage project in the world.”

2nd solar project, more

The second solar plant planned for a yet-to-be disclosed site in Nye County is to feature 10 towers.

The project is estimated at $5 billion and forecast to employ about 3,000 construction jobs through a five-to seven-year project.

The Crescent Dunes plant, valued at close to $1 billion and employing about 1,100 at peak construction, features one tower. The facility features about 10,350 mirrors with more than one million square meters of glass.

“The project went into full commercial operation about a year ago,” Smith said. “We’ve got a ramp-up period that we’re pretty deep into to get the project up to kind of full-fighting position. We’ve had a great run over the last several months. We’re now operating at pretty much full load. We’ve had 24-hour operations demonstrated.”

With the Tonopah solar plant leading the way, SolarReserve now has a big development pipeline of other projects.

“But this project here really is the key for us,” Smith said.

“The technology that we built here, now we’re looking to export that,” he added. “We’ve got projects in various stages of development around the world. South Africa, China, other markets.”

Contact reporter David Jacobs at djacobs@tonopahtimes.com