Construction has been completed on the world's tallest solar power tower by SolarReserve, a utility-scale solar thermal developer.

The 540-foot structure stands in Tonopah, Nevada at the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Power Plant. Construction began in September 2011 and the process has been operating 24/7 in the last few months in order to get the tower completed before winter. I spoke with CEO Kevin Smith this morning.

The project will eventually use 10,000 "billboard-size" mirrors, called heliostats, to focus sunlight at a boiler, which will work in conjunction with a molten salt energy storage system that provides something that photovoltaic solar systems don't: power when the sun goes down. The mirrors will start to go in the ground in summer 2012. The molten salt receiver target will be added later this year and add 100 feet to the height of the tower.
SolarReserve of Santa Monica, California closed a $140 million venture round in 2008 and has a $737 million loan guarantee from the DOE for the 110-megawatt molten salt storage power tower with 10 hours of thermal energy storage. This will be the tallest molten salt tower in the world, according to the DOE website. The firm licenses the molten salt power tower solar technology from Rocketdyne, a division of Hamilton Sundstrand. Investors in SolarReserve include U.S. Renewables Group, Citi Alternative Investments, Sustainable Development Investments, Good Energies, and Credit Suisse. The project is owned by SolarReserve, ACS Cobra (a power plant engineering and construction firm), and Santander, a financial services and banking firm.

SolarReserve has a power purchase agreement (PPA) with NV Energy for this project, which is built on BLM land and is slated to be operational and generating power in 2013.

Molten salt energy storage allows the solar system to behave a bit more like a natural gas power plant and a bit less like a field of heliostats or PV solar panels. In a press release, Kevin Smith, CEO of Solar Reserve, said, "We can deliver electricity ‘on demand’ the same way a coal, natural gas or nuclear fueled plant does, but without emitting any harmful pollution or hazardous materials, providing a genuine alternative to conventional power generation."

Once working, the power plant will generate more than $10 million per year in salaries and operating costs, along with generating millions in tax revenues, according to the company. 
The massive scale and scope of the project can be better appreciated from the construction videos found here.

GTM Research has looked at the LCOE of various solar technologies, with and without storage, and SolarReserve fares rather well in those comparisons. (See chart below.) The CEO confirmed that they expect an LCOE in the $0.116 range, which puts the CSP firm in striking distance of a combined-cycle natural gas power plant -- but without the emissions.


Here's CEO Kevin Smith pleading his case on Fox News: