SAN JOSE, Calif. Startup eSolar switched on its first solar thermal generating system Wednesday, claiming a milestone in cost-effective solar power.
The 5 MW Sierra SunTower solar power plant in Lancaster, California, will produce electricity for Southern California Edison, powering more than 4,000 homes in the Antelope Valley area. The plant was built in less than a year.
The startup uses algorithms that track the Sun's movements and move thousands of small mirrors to concentrate solar energy. To speed construction time it prefabricates its system in a factory and builds the generator on private land close to transmission systems, said Bill Gross a serial entrepreneur and chief executive of eSolar.
"Fourteen months ago this was just a proposal and we didn't even have any permitting infrastructure for it," said R. Rex Parris, mayor of Lancaster in a Webcast of an opening ceremony for the plant. "We should never build another coal-fired plant again, and we should not need to given this technology," he added.
"Success here could signal a cost-effective use of solar energy," said Dan Reicher, director of climate change and energy initiatives at Google.org which helped fund the plant. "We're convinced Bill Gross and his team have taken a giant step in cracking the code on commercial solar energy," he added.
"Several more things must happen if we are to enjoy a future powered by the Sun," said Reicher, a former Department of Energy official in the Clinton Administration.
He called on Congress to increase its funding of renewable energy technology, making good on President Barack Obama's campaign promise to spend $16 billion on renewable energy over the next decade. He noted that billions of dollars are needed to construct such plants, and countries such as China are spending significantly higher portions of their gross domestic product on renewable energy than the U.S.
Reicher also praised the eSolar system for its use of innovative control technology. "At Google we are particularly interested in how information technology can impact energy technology," he said.
"I believe we are ushering in a second industrial revolution by obtaining power from the Sun" rather than burning fossil fuels, said Gross.
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 MW of electricity using eSolar technology. Additionally, in March, eSolar licensed its technology to India-based ACME Group to build a GW plant.