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Feature Story - June 2007
Sustainable Building and Design

Green Light

Nevada's Largest Solar Power Plant Opens

By Tony Illia

Large-scale power plants are nothing new for Nevada, but Nevada Solar One, located in the desert outside Las Vegas, is different. This new $250 million plant will produce up to 64 MW of solar power, making it one of the largest solar energy producers in the world.


Nevada's high-desert sun is providing cheap, abundant fuel for a new $250-million, 64-MW solar thermal power plant in Boulder City, 25 mi southeast of Las Vegas.

The facility, "Nevada Solar One," opened in April and is generating enough electricity to power 48,000 homes in the Las Vegas Valley. The plant was developed by Solargenix Energy LLC of Raleigh, N.C. (formerly Duke Solar Energy LLC). Abilene, Texas-based Lauren Engineers & Constructors was the engineering-procurement contractor.

Nevada Solar One is the biggest solar electric power project in 14 years, and the third largest in the world, Solargenix officials say. It makes Nevada, which has 320 days of sun a year, one of the nation's largest solar energy producers.

"Nevada has proven to be very forward thinking in promoting solar and other renewables," says Solargenix CEO John Myles. "The main factor here is that you can get very large blocks of power coming from solar energy in one single location. It is very clearly the lowest cost solar energy that can be produced today."
The plant uses futuristic machinery with 190,000 curved parabolic mirrors that concentrate desert sunlight to 750° Fahrenheit to heat synthetic oil inside tubes that, in turn, create stream and drive a turbine to produce electricity.

The project's liquid tubes or "solar receivers" are specially coated glass-and-steel vacuum tubes that were designed and produced by Israel-based Solel Solar Systems Ltd. with Schott North America Inc. of Elmsford, N.Y., under a $10 million subcontract. The newly built plant uses about 19,300 of these 4-meter-long receivers.

The system is supported by 7 million lbs of aluminum assembled into 9,120 space frames, each consisting of 36 components. Phoenix-based Hydro Aluminum

North America was the frame contractor, while German-based Flabeg provided the mirrored panels and Sweden's Siemens provided the project's $12-million, SST-700 industrial steam turbine.

Nevada Solar One uses something called parabolic trough technology, which is considered a major renewable energy system capable of competing head-to-head with fossil-fuel-burning power plants, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

"Given today's natural gas prices combined with tax incentives offered in the recently passed energy bill, utilities and investors are showing a lot of interest in the development of large-scale concentrating solar power plants," says Mark Mehos, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's solar program manager. "This is the first in line of a string of new large-scale domestic and international concentrating solar projects."

The plant features a 10,000-sq-ft administrative center with a 28-person full-time staff, plus a visitors' center and classrooms. It additionally uses a unique thermal storage system that allows heat to be stored in the form of molten salt to produce electricity after sunset.

The project employed an average workforce of 400 people, and peaked at 850 tradesmen. Nevada Solar One required 1.5-million man-hours of work to complete during 14 months of cosntruction.

Solargenix currently has a 40-year lease with Boulder City to occupy 350 sq acres in the Eldorado Valley for $550,000 a year in rent payments. The company also signed an option to lease another 650 acres in the future.

Nevada Power Co., Las Vegas, contracted to buy 50 MW of the power generated from the new plant. It built a new 230 kv substation as well as transmission lines connecting to the new facility.

Assembly Bill 431 in 2003 and AB3 in 2005 require up to 20% of Nevada's power to come from a renewable resource by 2015, with roughly 5% coming from solar power.

Key Players

Owner: Solargenix Energy LLC

EPC Contractor: Lauren Engineers & Constructors

Solar Receiver Design/Fab: Solel Solar Systems Ltd.

Suppliers: Schott North America Inc.; Siemens AG;
Flabeg; Hydro Aluminum North America

Useful Sources

To learn more on the developer of this project, visit www.solargenix.com

To learn more about solar power and photovoltaics,
visit www.prometheus.org

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