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In March, Ivanpah Set a Record for Gas Consumption

ivanpah gas comparison may 26 2016

The big story at Ivanpah these days is last week’s fire. That was at Unit 3, also known as Solar Partners VIII, one of the two units contracted to sell power to PG&E, which means there could be implications for the tenuous power purchase agreement Solar Partners (NRG Energy et al) has with the Northern California utility.

But for Ivanpah geeks there’s interesting non-fire news as well, involving the plant’s use of natural gas.

You might recall that a couple of months ago, just after the Wall Street Journal click-baited you all with that “Ivanpah Solar Plant May Be Forced to Shut Down” headline, NRG fed a story to Bloomberg touting the plant’s vastly improved electricity generation in February (67,254 MWh vs. 30,273 MWh the previous February). I asked at the time how much gas the plant used on its way to that improved performance, and later found it was about double the previous February.

So now we have March data. It shows generation up just slightly over March 2015 – 58,409 MWh vs 56,343 MWh. Meanwhile, gas use again increased dramatically. In fact, sound the trumpets, in March Ivanpah burned more gas than in any month since it began operating: 149,445 mcf. The old record was 144,472 mcf in June 2015. In March 2015 the figure was 87,367 mcf.

Add up the three first-quarter months and you see gas consumption at the plant was up 93 percent this year over 2015 (while energy generation was up 39 percent). That’s a crazy pace that would seemingly have put the plant, which used 1,195,123 mcf last year, on the way to busting through its regulatory limit of 1,575,000 mcf/year (525,000 mcf per unit, to be precise). Remember, too, that originally Ivanpah was certified to use 984,000 mcf/year. Then it started up, realized it would need more, and successfully petitioned to boost the limit.