A tale of two power plants

Here is a tale of two power generation plants here in the United States.

One mostly subsidized by the government, the other funded entirely by private investors. One is extraordinarily successful , one is not. Both produce relatively clean energy.


First, the government’s power plant, the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility. One of the largest solar power facilities ever created. Designed to produce a massive

    440 megawatts

of continual power output.

This facility was constructed at a total cost of

    $2.2 billion dollars

. Of this $2.2 billion dollars, $1.6 billion was provided as a loan by the government, while the remainder was split between Google and NRG energy of New Jersey.

So, let’s go back and look at the cost = $2.2 billion dollars divided by an output of 440 megawatts is a cost of $5,500 per kilowatt, or $5.50 per watt of output power.

Now, let’s compare this to another power generating system on the other side of the world : The Cape Canaveral Clean Energy Center.

Unlike the Ivanpah solar facility, the Cape Canaveral energy center was not financed through government loans or grants. Instead it was financed entirely by private capital.

The cost to build the

    1,200 megawatt

facility was

    $1.1 billion dollars



Now, let’s take the numbers on this and calculate it out = $2.2 billion dollars divided by an output of 1,200 megawatts comes out to a cost of $916 per kilowatt and 91 cents per watt.

The cost for the privately financed facility is
    less than one fifth of the cost of the government subsidized facility.

But, that isn’t where it stops.

The listed capacity for the Ivanpah facility is listed as ‘Nameplate capacity’. This means this is the expected output for the facility, not the actual output nor the average output for the facility over a year’s time.

Out of the rated output for the Ivanpah facility, the first year of operation, the output in Q1 2014 was only 40,000 megawatt hours for THREE MONTHS. This means that the total average output over the 90 day period was a paltry 18 megawatts of power, or

    less than 5% of the rated output for the facility

. Now , to the benefit of the facility the output in 2015 has increased. Many supporters of the facility boast the 170% output gain as a massive sign of the future of the facility. Unfortunately for them, the math still doesn’t look too good – A 170% gain is only a total output of 7.15% of the rated output.

Now, let’s go back to our cost per kilowatt, the $5.50 figure. If the plant quadruples the output (And we’re being very generous) and reaches 30% efficiency of the nameplate, this increases the costs of the ‘state of the art’ solar facility to more than $15 per watt. This 30% efficiency is actually the best case scenario provided by engineers dealing with the system.

Thus, the cost for the mostly government government funded facility is 15 times MORE than what can be provided by the private sector.

Now, don’t be fooled by people touting the supposedly squeaky clean energy produced by the Ivanpah facility. The facility utilized 867 billion btus of natural gas to pre-heat the steam system for the plant.

So, the next time that someone touts another government program espousing government subsidized electricity, ask them if they’re willing to spend 15 times the rate that the private sector can provide.