Fire at world’s largest solar power plant leaves facility operating at a third of total capacity

Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, the largest solar power plant in the world, caught fire on May 19, leaving the California-based facility operating at only a third of its total capacity.

The fire reportedly broke out about two-thirds up one of the plant’s towers at 9am on Thursday.

Employees at the plant were able to subdue the flames by the time firefighters arrived at the scene – who were forced to climb 300 feet up a boiler tower to reach the spot.

Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System with all three towers under load.

William Dusenbury, general manager of Ivanpah, was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying that one of the plant’s workers used a fire extinguisher to put it out.

“It wasn’t a big fire at all,” he said.

The solar thermal plant is located in the California Mojave Desert, 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas and boasts a gross capacity of 392 megawatts – enough to power 140,000 homes. It has 173,500 heliostats, each with two mirrors about the size of a garage door, which reflect and beam sunlight onto boilers atop three towers – creating steam to drive turbines and generate energy.

The fire is believed to have been caused by misaligned mirrors which reflected the sun’s rays onto electrical wires, said Capt. Mike McClintock from San Bernardino County, California.

The incident highlights the importance of properly positioning the mirrors of high concentrated solar power.