From the window of an airplane high above Nevada, the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Facility is a bright flash on the landscape. You can really only appreciate its enormity from the ground: 1,670 acres of desert blanketed with 10,347 billboard-sized mirrors that generate enough electricity to power 75,000 homes.The power plant sits outside Tonapah, a dot in the desert midway between Las Vegas and Reno. Each mirror is 37 feet wide and 24 feet tall, and focuses thermal energy on a tower filled with molten salt, which is used to generate steam, which spins turbines that generate electricity.
Reuben Wu first saw the sprawling solar farm a few years ago flying from Chicago to San Francisco. “I was startled by how bright it was,” he says. “It looked like a fake sun.”He finally visited the place in March. He worked at dusk and dawn, when the light is best and the mirrors make their most dramatic movements to align with the sun. Despite their size, they move almost silently amid the sound of the wind blowing through the structures. Wu used a Phase One 100XF camera for stills and a Canon 5D to make a time-lapse video of the array following the sun, with music composed by Zak Marcom. He even got to drive under the mirrors. “It was like being in a forest of metal and glass,” Wu says. A forest of metal and seen from the sky but best appreciated from the ground.
(Wired: THE BURNING BEAUTY OF SOLAR ENERGY IN THE NEVADA DESERT Words: CHARLEY LOCKE 12.01.16.)