Thursday, January 9, 2014
GILA BEND, Ariz. - If you've driven on the I-8 near Gila Bend on the way to San Diego, you've probably seen it: tons of large mirrors from the Solana solar power plant.
It's the nation's largest solar power plant in the US and it's right here in Arizona.
After years of construction, it's finally up and running.
It's three square miles in the middle of the desert.
The massive solar power plant is called Solana and it's the first plant in the US to feature a thermal energy storage system.
Thousands of curved mirrors follow the sun and use its heat to generate electricity.
"You have invested in all this equipment, you want the most sunshine you can possibly collect and this is where it's at," said Brad Albert, APS general manager of resource management.
But it doesn't stop once the sun goes down, it even generates electricity at night.
Solar mirrors heat oil and pipes carry the oil to heat exchangers that turn the water into steam. Using that steam, they're able to generate power for up to six hours after sunset.
"The benefit of this facility with the energy storage is this facility can keep operating at full power levels through our peak periods even on into the nighttime hours," said Albert.
The plant generates enough power for 70,000 homes that will go to APS customers.
"APS has entered into an agreement to buy all of the power Solana will produce over the next 30 years," said Albert.
The $2 billion plant took nearly three years to complete.
A lot of its parts were made right in Arizona, including all the mirrors you see when you drive by.
"We are reducing abating 475,000 tons of carbon dioxide from being produced at other generating sources," said Armando Zuluga Abengoa, solar general manager.
Solana went online last month and although the power coming from this plant may be more expensive than natural gas or oil, APS expects that to change.
Many say solar power is the future for Arizona and there are plans to build even more plants.