SolarReserve, based in Santa Monica, California, wants to convert 25 square miles of arid land 225 miles northwest of Las Vegas into the largest solar power plant in the world. If the proposed plant gets built, it could produce between 1,500 and 2,000 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 1,000,000 homes. That’s equivalent to the power of a nuclear power plant or Hoover Dam. The project would cost about $5 billion.
Last week, SolarReserve chief executive Kevin Smith outlined a plan Tuesday to create a 10 tower concentrated solar array dubbed Sandstone Energy X near the city of Tonopah in Nevada’s Nye County. SolarReserve already operates a single tower project on 1,600 acres of federal land outside Tonopah called the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant. It can produce up to 110 megawatts of electricity by focusing a 1-mile circle of mirrors called heliostats on a 640 foot tall central tower to heat molten salt to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The superheated salt is used to boil water to drive power turbines.
The secret to such concentrated solar power facilities is that the stored heat from the molten salt can continue to generate steam to keep the turbines running for up to 10 hours after the sun sets. SolarReserve says storing energy in molten salt is far less expensive than lithium ion batteries of similar capacity. Tesla is one of the leading providers of batteries for grid storage but there are many other companies competing in the battery storage business, including the Accumotive division of Daimler, the parent of Mercedes Benz.