Mirrors Up at New California Solar Thermal Power Plant

BAKERSFIELD, California, October 23, 2008 (ENS) - Turning a long line of mirrors to catch the California sunshine, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today fired up the first solar thermal power plant built in California in nearly 20 years.

The new Kimberlina concentrating solar thermal power plant in Bakersfield was built by Ausra Inc., a large-scale solar thermal energy developer and manufacturer based in Palo Alto.

"This next generation solar power plant is further evidence that reliable, renewable and pollution-free technology is here to stay, and it will lead to more California homes and businesses powered by sunshine," said Governor Schwarzenegger. "Not only will this large-scale solar facility generate power to help us meet our renewable energy goals, it will also generate new jobs as California continues to pioneer the clean-tech industry."

Two years ago California passed a requiring a rollback in greenhouse gases to the 1990 level by the year 2020, an emissions reduction of 25 percent. The governor said the Kimberlina solar thermal power plant brings the state closer to achieving this goal.

The first solar plant in the country to utilize Ausra's technology, at full output, the Kimberlina solar plant will generate five megawatts of electricity, enough to power 3,500 homes in central California.

Unlike photovoltaic solar panels, which convert the light from the Sun into electricity and are often mounted on rooftops, solar thermal facilities use large fields of mirrors to concentrate and capture the Sun's heat, converting it into useful forms of energy.

Solar concentrators boil water with focused sunlight, generating high-pressure steam that drives large conventional turbine generators. The process produces clean, reliable electricity and high-temperature steam for industrial applications.

Low-cost thermal energy storage systems now under development by Ausra will allow solar electric power to be generated on demand, day and night.

Ausra's core technology, the Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector solar collector and steam generation system, was originally conceived in the early 1990s at Sydney University. It was first commercialized by Solar Heat and Power Pty Ltd. in 2004 in Australia and is now being refined and built at large scale by Ausra around the world.

"Behind these striking, 1,000 foot long mirrors is a design philosophy that uses an elegant simplicity to lower costs and accelerate our ability to deliver at large scale and on schedule, making solar power much more of a player in our collective energy future," said Robert Morgan, executive vice-president and chief development officer for Ausra.

"Kimberlina represents more than an industry milestone," said Ausra President, CEO and Chairman Bob Fishman. "It represents the best of American and Australian ingenuity and get-it-done attitude. I'm particularly proud of all the Ausra employees who designed and built this plant safely in five months, with zero loss-time accidents and entirely with private capital."

At the launch event, Pacific Gas & Electric chief executive Peter Darbee warned that the current financial crisis might divert attention from the climate change crisis and pledged that his company would not abandon its efforts to curb global warming.

"We cannot do that," said Darbee. "Climate change is a very, very serious problem. Unquestionably, we have to deal with the problems of the capital markets, the real estate market, the deficits and economic problems that we're all going to face during the next two years. But we cannot afford to take our eye off of the ball, the ball which is described by many as the greatest challenge mankind has ever faced."

"I want to restate our commitment as PG&E, our commitment to the governor, to you all, to Washington, that we will not take our eye off the ball, that we will continue to pursue energy efficiency, we will continue to pursue demand management, we will continue to pursue renewables," Darbee said.

Recognizing that due to the financial crisis, "high-risk projects aren't going to get financed in the future and higher-risk projects are going to be much more expensive than low-risk projects," Darbee pledged, "PG&E stands ready, as we were before, to take on the challenge of financing renewables, to work with people collaboratively to move renewable generation forward."

Using Ausra's current solar technologies, company executives say that all U.S. electric power, day and night, could be generated using a land area smaller than 92 square miles.

The Kimberlina facility will serve as the gateway toward developing Ausra's Carrizo Plains solar power plant in San Luis Obispo.

In November 2007, Ausra and Pacific Gas and Electric Company announced a power purchase agreement for the 177-megawatt power plant. When completed, the Carrizo facility will generate enough electricity to power more than 120,000 homes.

In the 1980s, a concentrating solar thermal demonstration plant was built in Daggett, California that used an array of mirrors to focus the Sun's energy to a single receiver mounted atop a central tower. It was decommissioned in 1999.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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