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Changing Perspectives: Crescent Dunes Solar

Jamey Stillings | United States

Crescent Dunes Solar, a 110MW concentrated solar power plant near Tonopah, Nevada

Crescent Dunes Solar, a 110MW concentrated solar power plant near Tonopah, Nevada uses a 2800 meter diameter field with over 10,000 large tracking mirrors, called heliostats, to concentrate the thermal energy of the sun to the top of a 640 foot (195 meter) tower. Each 115 square meter heliostat consists of a 35 mirror grid. Two molten salt storage tanks at the base of the tower are used to store the collected thermal energy. Salt from the "cold tank" at 550ºF (288ºC) is pumped up the tower, heated to 1050ºF (566ºC), then returned to a "hot tank." The hot salt is used to super heat water creating steam which drives a turbine to generate electricity.

Crescent Dunes has a ten hour molten salt storage capacity that allows the plant to collect the thermal energy of the sun during the day, then create electricity as the grid demands it. The plant's power purchase agreement with NV Energy has it producing electricity until midnight.

I am fascinated by the visual energy and tension created at the intersections of nature and human activity. Uniquely as a species, we consciously modify and use the environment for our perceived needs or enjoyment. Sometimes we consider the future consequences of our actions. More often, we focus myopically on the short-term utility of land and resource use. We are now at a critical juncture in the evolution of our species. How we choose to live on Earth in the next few decades, with a rapidly growing human population and expanding consumption patterns, may determine not only our prospects for survival, but also the ultimate viability of the global ecosystem.

The focus of my work over the past three years has been on the development of large-scale renewable energy in the American West. I began this work in October 2010, with a flight over the future site of Ivanpah Solar in the Mojave Desert of California, USA. Now complete as of February 2014, Ivanpah Solar is the world's largest concentrated solar thermal power plant, with the capacity to produce 392 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 140,000 American homes.

In our inexorable quest for energy to meet the growing demands of a consumption dependent culture, we are transforming our natural, rural, and urban landscapes at an accelerating pace. The need to examine such transformations with an aesthetic and critical eye is compelling and necessary. To think consciously about the decisions we make, or have imposed upon us, we need to see these changes. As an artist, aerial photography is a principal component of my work. I explore perspectives distinct from those found on earth's surface, revealing information and insight otherwise concealed.

Ultimately, the issues surrounding energy production are global in nature. Renewable energy projects are being built around the world at a remarkable pace. Over the next few years, I intend to transform Changing Perspectives into a project of global scale. By observing these contemporary changes, I am creating imagery relevant both to our present-day collective consciousness and to an eventual historical perspective of this era on Earth.

Jamey Stillings

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