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Sierra Sun Tower (California, USA)

Credits: ©Augu e-Solar News

Lancaster, Calif. – August 5, 2009 – With 24,000 mirrors glimmering under the Antelope Valley summer sun, eSolar, a leading provider of modular, scalable solar thermal power technology, today unveiled its 5-megawatt (MW) Sierra SunTower solar power plant. The full-scale power plant, the only power tower of its kind in the U.S., produces electricity for Southern California Edison (SCE) and can power more than 4,000 homes in California's Antelope Valley.

The eSolar technology resolves many of the problems that have held back large scale solar in the past including cost, speed of deployment and proximity to existing transmission lines. eSolar uses advanced software algorithms to precisely focus thousands of mirrors on a single point to efficiently harvest the sun's energy and achieve economies of scale with a smaller footprint than anyone else in the business.


Sierra Sun Tower AUG 2009

Sierra SunTower is located in Lancaster, Calif., and the array uses 24,000 mirrors to concentrate sunlight on two 160-foot towers. The facility is technically a solar thermal plant, meaning that instead of solar cells converting sunlight directly to energy, the light is used to heat water located at the top of the towers. The steam generated turns a traditional steam turbine, which generates power for local utility Southern California Edison. The mirrors track the sun using GPS technology to keep the water heated at a consistent 800 degrees Fahrenheit, producing 800 pounds of steam per square inch. ©2009 eSolar

"Today, we unveil a new blueprint for solar energy — one that leverages Moore's law rather than more steel," said Bill Gross, CEO of eSolar. "Sierra is just the beginning. Soon eSolar technology will be deployed worldwide to provide clean, affordable energy to hundreds of thousands of homes."

Constructed in less than one year, eSolar's Sierra SunTower power plant marks the first of several developments in the Antelope Valley region using eSolar technology. Over the course of construction, this project created 300 jobs.

"With today's historic plant opening, eSolar is proving that California's energy and environmental leadership are advancing carbon-free, cost-effective energy that can be used around the world," said Governor Schwarzenegger. "Through measures such as AB 32 and the California Solar Initiative, I have worked to create an environment that allows companies such as eSolar to thrive in our state — creating green jobs, boosting our economy and preparing us for the energy demands of the future."

eSolar received the support and cooperation of the City of Lancaster throughout the construction process. "The City of Lancaster is proud to be home to the nation's newest solar power tower plant. This plant and eSolar's progressive growth plans throughout the Antelope Valley are the crown jewels in our ongoing effort to truly become the Alternative Energy Capital of the World," said R. Rex Parris, Mayor of Lancaster.

eSolar develops its California projects on parcels of previously disturbed private lands, avoiding many of the permitting and environmental pitfalls of development on pristine desert lands. Located in northern Lancaster, Sierra SunTower is built on private land designated for heavy industrial use. The decision to site projects solely on private land is unique within the utility-scale solar industry, and the distinction has garnered support from local environmental advocates. "

eSolar demonstrates that pristine wildlands do not have to be sacrificed in order to keep the lights on with clean energy," remarked David Myers, Executive Director of the Wildlands Conservancy. "eSolar's efforts to reduce its impact on the surrounding environment demonstrates a level of foresight we hope to see from other solar developers in the future."

Sierra SunTower was fully financed and developed by eSolar, proving the rapid deployment, pre-fabricated method eSolar patented and pioneered. Building on Sierra's success, eSolar will deploy many more plants around the country and around the world. In February, eSolar announced an agreement with NRG Energy, Inc. to develop three plants in California and New Mexico that will generate up to 465 megawatts of electricity using eSolar technology. Additionally, in March, eSolar licensed its technology to India-based ACME Group for approximately 1 gigawatt of eSolar solar thermal capacity.

"Today we take an important step to a new dawn of power generation," said David Crane, President and CEO of NRG Energy. "With eSolar demonstrating the commercial viability of solar thermal power on a large scale, and with NRG planning to implement the technology at scale across the Southwest, we will begin to harness the sun to power our lives."

Article from Marc Gunther
Bill Gross’s solar breakthrough
Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

“We are producing the lowest cost solar electrons in the history of the world,” Bill Gross is telling me. “Nobody’s ever done it. Nobody’s close.”

Bill Gross is nothing if not an enthusiast, which makes him a great salesman for whatever it is he happens to be selling. A lifelong entrepreneur, a longtime evangelist for solar energy and the CEO of eSolar, a Google-funded startup that designs and develops concentrating solar power (CSP) projects at utility scale, Gross is one of the most interesting business people I’ve known. I met Bill in 2002, when I wrote a critical story about him for FORTUNE – investors in Idealab, his Internet incubator, were suing him after the dot-com bubble burst – and although he and his wife, Marcia Goodstein, were more than mildly irritated with me then, we’ve reconciled and I now count myself as an admirer of Bill’s. He’s always got a million things going on, some of them slightly nutty, but all of them interesting. He’s in the robot business with a company called Evolution Robotics and he’s the founder of Aptera, a very cool electric car company (in which Google has invested) that I wrote about last spring.

Today, Bill and eSolar are staging a grand opening for eSolar’s first plant, called the Sierra SunTower, located in the southern California desert near Lancaster. Below are a couple of photos, taken by Bill, from a helicopter ride over the plant on July 3. He sent them to me via Picasa, the photo sharing site now owned by Google, which he founded back in the 1990s. Like I said, he’s a serial enterpreneur. (Bill also invented the idea of paid search, but that’s another story.)

In any event, this eSolar plant is a big deal, according to Bill, because it is producing solar energy at a lower cost than other solar thermal plants and at a much lower cost than utility-cale solar photovoltaic arrays. Concentrating solar power (CSP), also known as solar thermal power, produces energy by using mirrors or lenses to focus the sun’s heat and boil liquids that become a heat source for a steam turbine. Climate-change expert Joseph Romm, writing in Salon, opined last year that solar thermal
will be the most important form of carbon-free power in the 21st century. That’s because it’s the only form of clean electricity that can meet all the demanding requirements of this century.
Solar thermal technology has been deployed commercially for decades, but Gross tells me that eSolar has been able to drive costs down by mass-producing and deploying thousands of small mirrors across fields that track the sun and reflect its heat back at a thermal receiver mounted on a tower. ”Our breakthrough is lots and lots of small mirrors, and lots and lots of software to control them,” he says. The Sierra SunTower alone uses 24,000 mirrors, made by a contract manufacturer in China. You can read about the technology and see pictures here on eSolar’s website.

Through a power purchase agreement with Southern California Edison, the Sierra SunTower plant will supply 5 MW of clean energy to the grid. That’s not a lot, but it’s just the start of big things to come, Gross says.

While Google is eSolar’s best-known investor, two other big backers of the company—an Indian energy and telecom firm called the ACME group and Princeton, N.J.-based NRG Energy—are ready to step up their commitment to solar thermal, now that they can measure the cost and efficiency of eSolar’s technology under real-world conditions.

Acme, which invested $30 million in eSolar, has agreed to invest another $20 million, Gross told me. ACME has said it plans to build, own and operate up to 1 GW of solar thermal plants over the next 10 years using eSolar’s designs and mirrors. Construction will begin this year.

NRG, meanwhile, plans to start building a 92 MW plant in New Mexico as soon as it wins regulatory approval, Gross says. NRG has agreements with eSolar to develop solar power plants with a total generation capacity of up to 500 MW at sites within California and across the southwest.

I emailed David Crane, the chief executive of NRG, to ask him about eSolar. He was on his way to today’s ceremony and emailed back:
Bill Gross is the kind of can-do visionary–with the innate ability to find the “winning” disruptive technology of the future–who we, at NRG, want to work with as we seek to deploy a new generation of sustainable and climate-friendly power technology in this country.

It’s impossible for me to evaluate Gross’s claims for his technology. But the fact that big companies are willing to invest capital in eSolar—at a time when capital is scarce—leads me to believe that Bill is, once again, onto something big.

“We have a cost-effective, no-subsidy solar power solution and it’s for sale, anywhere around the world,” he says.

Bill Gross and David Crane are regulars at FORTUNE’s Brainstorm: Green conference about business and the environment, which I co-chair, and I’m pleased that they’ll both be back as speakers next year.

ESolar Unveils Sierra SunTower in California
Posted on: August 20th, 2009
by Beth Williams

The United States is now the recipient of it’s first commercial use solar tower, which was built in California by eSolar. The tower is 50 miles north of Los Angeles, and has been named the Sierra SunTower solar power plant. The solar tower will use computer software to direct thousands of flat mirrors into optimal positions to harness energy from the sun’s heat. The panel with mirrors is installed directly at the top of the solar tower. The tower works by bringing water up through pipes and then the water is boiled into steam which is then used to power a turbine which generates up to 5 MW of electricity. eSolar has designed the project to be housed on 10 acres of land, totaling 12,000 mirrors. The Sierra SunTower consists of two of eSolar’s solar modules combined to produce a total of 5 MW of electricity. The power generated by the facility will be sold to Southern California Edison with whom eSolar maintains a purchasing agreement. The company already has plans to repeat their Sierra SunTower model at other solar facilities across the U.S. and then taking their models facility. ESolar already has an agreement with NRG Energy to develop three new plants similar to the Sierra SunTower in California and New Mexico


  Sierra Sun Tower Fact Sheet (565 kb)


Sierra Sun Tower Launch Video