When it comes to having the “world’s oldest”…well, anything, California doesn’t hold many distinctions.
Somewhere hidden in the state’s White Mountains there’s a 5,068 year old tree that’s the world’s oldest bristlecone pine.
But conifers and Big Macs aside, California also has the distinction for housing the world’s first and oldest solar power plant, which was built way back in 1985.
Owned and built by NextEra Energy Resources, the 354 MW facility houses nine operational solar plants, with the newest being completed in 1990. It facility covers 1,600 acres and houses nearly a million parabolic mirrors. According to NextEra, it can power over 230,000 homes during peak energy production.
The plants, which are referred to as Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS), use panels that are different than the more commonly used photovoltaic ones, which transfer and store energy into batteries. Instead, the SEGS use mirrors that are 94% reflective (compared to typical mirrors with a 70% reflection rate) to direct the sun to heat a synthetic oil called Therminol. The focused light is nearly 80 times more powerful than normal sunlight. The heated oil then super-heats water, producing steam to power a turbine.
The plant is estimated to displace about 3,800 tons of pollution per a year, which, when added up over the decades is a savings of about 60,000 tons of waste.
So next time you’re driving through the Mojave desert and want to make a historical pit stop, check out the oldest solar fields in the world. And be sure to bring your sunglasses!