California’s First Solar Thermal Plant in 20 Years

October 31, 2008

As reported in Huffington Post Green

Written by Hank Green   
Thursday, 23 October 2008
A funny thing about solar thermal. It works great, is cheap, easy to build, easy to maintain, and has been profitable for decades. But no one’s been building them!Why? Simply because utilities are too lazy to deal with developing new technologies and, in the absence of other pressures, would much rather just keep the status quo.So now that there (finally) are other pressures, like impending carbon taxes, pressure from state and national government to clean up power generation, and the possible end of the freaking world, we’re finally seeing solar thermal plants go online again. The first Californian plant in over 20 years went online today, in fact, on a nice sunny day.

The plant is the first built by Ausra which is already planning a similar plant in Las Vegas. They’re somewhat famous for their claim that they could power all of America with a mere 92 square miles of land. While technically true, 92 square miles of solar is a pretty daunting project.

The plant basically uses flat mirrors to concentrate sunlight on a pipe containing oil. The oil is heated to magnificent temperatures and then the pipe runs through a vat of water. The water instantly boils, creating steam that then drives a turbine, creating electricity.

The plant is small, only 5 megawatts, but their second project, planned for next year, will be 117 megawatts. An average coal plant is roughly 800 megawatts.

Solar thermal projects are particularly appealing because they produce most of their power when people are using the most electricity in warm climates (when all the air conditioners are on.) Other solar thermal start-ups (like eSolar) are working on their own similar systems to compete with Ausra. But right now, it looks like they’ll all succeed fairly well because desire for these plants far outstrips the capacity of the companies to build them.

One Response to “California’s First Solar Thermal Plant in 20 Years”

  1. solar thermal is gaining popularity. Spain has announced 60 new plants and Australia expects it to be its main source of energy by 2050

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