The two most notable symbols of modern Tonopah are the 110-year-old Mizpah Hotel and the 640-foot concrete tower at the Crescent Dunes solar project a few miles north of town, the first of its kind in the world. It can produce more than twice as much net annual output (megawatt hours) as any other currently available solar technology. On the long grade up to Tonopah from Miller’s you’ll see it off to the north: a tall tower with an opening at its top, and at its foot is an array of more than 10,000 mirrors that reflect tightly focused beams of sunlight into that opening to generate electricity.
Construction work began in the fall of 2011 with as many as 1,000 workers building the concrete tower and encircling it with the mirrors that follow the sun from sunrise to sunset. The sun’s focused sunlight heats a dense salt solution to extreme temperatures. The molten salt flows down out of the tower into an enormous tank where it it is stored just as if it were energy itself, to deliver electricity via a steam generator to the national power grid.
Crescent Dunes entered into commercial operation in late 2015 now delivers to the grid enough firm, reliable electricity from solar energy, day and night— 110 megawatts plus 1,100 megawatt-hours of energy storage, — to power 75,000 homes whether or not the sun is shining.