Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating system is the world’s largest solar thermal plant. The project, started in October 2010, is located on 3,500 acres in California’s Mojave Desert—50 miles northwest of Needles California and five miles from the California-Nevada border—on federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The power created by the plant will go to customers of PG&E and Southern California Edison. Aside from BrightSource, other equity investors include Google and NRG Solar. (You’ll definitely some of Google’s signature flair in the 3D tour and information about the plant.)

Ivanpah—actually a complex of three plants—utilizes BrightSource’s LPT solar thermal technology. The technology works using 300,000 software-controlled mirrors that track the sun and reflect it to boilers on top of towers. The sun heats the boilers and creates superheated steam, which is then used to turn a turbine.

BrightSource says that unique water tower and panel layout makes better use of land than other solar competitors, and the heliostat pylons can be inserted directly into the ground so they don’t require grading or foundations, which limits the devastating effects on the natural landscape.

According to BrightSource , the generated electricity is enough to serve 140,000 Californian homes during peak hours by producing 377 MW [392 MW gross] and will reduce CO2 emissions by more than 400,000 tons per year (the equivalent of taking 70,000 cars off the road.)

As for other economic benefits, when it’s finished, the plant will employee 86 people, but the construction offered 2,100 jobs.

Google put together a panoramic virtual tour of one of the sites to show what it looks like to those who can’t get a real life peek. It’s oddly beautiful—but I also love the way that wind turbines look, so I’m apparently drawn to this a bit. Take a look, here.

What are your thoughts on solar power as an alternative energy? Leave 'em in the comments