The world's largest solar power plant caught fire on May 19, leaving the major electric supply facility unable to operate temporarily.

At present, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) in California is only functioning a third of its total capacity, with a second tower also closed due to maintenance repairs.

What Really Happened?

The fire broke at about 9:30 a.m. The firefighters had to climb up a 300-foot boiler tower to get close to the actual scene, which is two-thirds up the tower. Before the firefighters came, some workers were able to tame down the fire. The entire fire-extinguishing operation ended about 20 minutes from when the fire commenced.

"It wasn't a big fire at all," said Ivanpah General Manager William Dusenbury, who was able to speak with a plant personnel.

The power plant functions through the use of mirrors to direct sunlight on boilers located at the topmost part of the 459-foot towers. This produces steam that makes the turbines generate electricity.

The primary reason being considered for the recent fire accident is the misaligned mirrors. The mirrors were said to have had focused sunbeams on a different portion of Unit 3, resulting in electrical cables to go on fire, Capt. Mike McClintock from San Bernardino County, California said.

The power plant is situated in a public property in the Mojave Desert, which spans about 4,000 acres. The facility has at least 173,000 heliostats, which is the very device that reflects sunlight toward a target. These devices contain mirrors as big as a garage door.

All in all, the power plant has a capacity of 392 megawatts, which is sufficient to supply about 140,000 homes.

Effects Of The Accident

The effect of the outage in the electrical supply of California has not yet been determined. The event, however, highlights the hazards of concentrated solar power and the importance of maintaining the position of the mirrors.

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