In 2014, the world’s largest concentrated solar thermal power plant, Ivanpah Solar, began generating electricity from the Mojave desert. Unlike photovoltaics, which convert sunlight directly into power, Ivanpah has 347,000 mirrors which direct sunlight into three boilers on three solar power towers, generating steam which is then turned into electricity.
Ivanpah requires natural gas to get started in the mornings, and then can generate up to four times that much energy during the day. It spans six square miles of desert land and has impacted the habitat of desert wildlife including desert tortoises (which had to be relocated away from the facility) and birds, of which an estimated 3500 die each year due to being burned alive as they fly through the intense heat generated by the solar plant. In other words, while it is indeed generating “clean” energy, the power plant is not doing so without a cost.
Artist Jamey Stillings photographed the plant throughout the construction process from a helicopter. He also asked for access to the plant from the ground, but was not willing to agree to the terms to get that access, which required turning over creative control of his project to Bechtel, the construction company.
His images are stunning. Stark black and white images that look almost surreal. You can see the enormity of the project, and the impact it has had on the location. The contrast between the desert and the man-made structures is abrupt, with the organic shapes of the wind-swept and water-shaped ground butting up against the geometric hard lines of the roads and mirrors. It almost looks like a structure that should be on a different planet.
About climate change, Jamey says “I have a lot of concerns. I would like to not think I am going to leave a legacy for my children, and other people’s children, that is fraught with danger and with unintended consequences of our selfishness, our greed and our neglect.”
His project, “The Evolution of Ivanpah,” has now turned into a much bigger project, “Changing Perspectives,” investigating and documenting clean energy projects around the world.
To see the rest of Jamey’s images visit his web site.