Kramer Junction, California

Thursday morning I backtracked from where I had spent the night in Barstow, CA about 45 minutes west to Kramer Junction (basically just the intersection of Highway 395 and Highway 58).  Not much to see there except a gas station on each of the four corners of the intersection.  Oh, and part of the second largest solar electric generating system in the world.

Kramer Junction Plant

(Photo credit: Bureau of Land Management)

This facility, along with two others in nearby towns, combine to generate 354 megawatts of electricity.  It is a secure facility so I wasn’t able to get inside to take better pictures, but here are a few I took from the road and the fenceline.





These curved mirrors (actually glass, which reflects 94% of the sun’s rays compared to a mirror which only reflects 71%) focus the sun’s rays on a tube which is filled with synthetic oil.

Kramer Junction side

(Photo credit: Caddell Construction, LLC)

The oil heats up to 750 degrees Fahrenheit, which then heats water which creates steam which turns a series of turbines.  The focused area of the sun’s rays is 70-80% more intense than ordinary sunlight.

These reflectors track the sun across the sky, which is why I came back here in the morning.  When I drove past this facility the afternoon before they were pointing away from the highway.

On all three campuses where these are located (combined), there are over 936,000 parabolic mirrors which cover 1,600 acres.  If put end-to-end they would stretch 229 miles.  They employ an automatic cleaning system to remove dust and dirt from the glass surface.

And if you think this is pretty cool, you should see where I went next….

Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station

After taking a look at the Kramer Junction facility I drove back to Barstow, then continued east on interstate 15, about an hour and a half, almost to the Nevada state line.  Here is what I found there, just north of the interstate.

You are looking at the largest solar electric generating station in the world.


Ivanpah’s three towers generate 392 megawatts of electricity.  This system works differently than the one I just showed you at Kramer Junction (see previous post).  Ivanpah employs heliostats, a series of two flat glass mirrors, and uses what is called a “concentrated solar thermal” method to generate electricity.



These heliostats also move to track the sun and reflect the rays to a Power Tower.




The towers are surrounded by heliostats.  Lots of them.  The three towers here are surrounded by over 173,000 heliostats (two mirrors each) which cover 3,500 acres.  Inside the top of each tower are boilers which use the concentrated rays of the sun to heat water to create steam to turn turbines to generate electricity.  The towers are each 459 feet tall (higher than a 40 story building).

Ivanpah grid - Getty

(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Ivanpah single

(Photo credit: YouTube)

Now this facility is not without it’s problems.  Two years ago a set of heliostats accidently pointed to the wrong part of one of the towers, causing it to catch fire.  Oops.

The biggest problem this facility, and ones like it around the world, have are their negative impact on wildlife.  Birds and insects, attracted to the shiny white light at the top of the tower, are literally incinerated when they fly into the focused rays of the sun.  The temperature near the top of the towers is over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  Up to 6,000 birds a year are found at the base of the towers.  There are videos online showing birds meeting their fate by flying up near the top of the towers.

Needless to say, animal rights groups are justifiably outraged at this fact and the plant’s owners are trying to come up with a solution, but birds do what birds do and unfortunately I don’t know if they’ll be able to come up with the answer.


UPDATE – Name of facility corrected to Ivanpah (a nearby town), not Ivanhof!   Duh


Mojave Desert Preserve

Thursday afternoon I drove through a portion of the Mojave Desert Preserve, in southeast California.  While the Preserve isn’t nearly as big as Death Valley National Park (1.6 million acres versus 3.3 million acres) it is still sizeable, and I only had time to travel on one of the roads through it.  I actually felt more isolated and alone here than I did in Death Valley.  If the car broke down I had no idea how soon someone else might come along.

It is your basic desert landscape, with mountains in the distance and noticeably more plant life than there was in Death Valley.  There was one area which had large sand dunes.

The “oasis in the desert” here is the Kelso Depot, near the center of the Preserve.  An old train station, built in 1924, is is now the Visitor Center and museum.