Friday, August 7, 2009

Solar power towers have maker beaming

Two major California utilities sign on for projects

The 5-megawatt Sierra SunTower solar power plant in Lancaster will use 24,000 mirrors to produce enough power for more than 4,000 homes for Southern California Edison. (eSolar)

As California and the nation seek to make electricity without burning fossil fuels, a new entrant jumped on the grid yesterday by focusing sunlight from 24,000 mirrors on a pair of towers north of Los Angeles.

The 850-degree heat atop the 160-foot towers boiled water, and when the resulting steam spun a turbine on the ground, the plant built by Pasadena-based eSolar became the first commercial solar tower project in the United States.

By utility standards, the Sierra SunTower is small – enough to power about 4,000 homes at its peak 5-megawatt production.

But eSolar has deals in place to build larger plants, about 600 megawatts of peak power production in California and the Southwest, plus a gigawatt in India. To produce more power, each plant would have more towers, up to 16 for each steam turbine.

The company sells the equipment, other firms own the plants and sell the power.

Two of California's biggest utilities, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric, have signed deals to buy their power. San Diego Gas & Electric Co. has not. …

Solar power towers have maker beaming

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