eSolar plugs solar plant into California grid

At an event in Southern California, eSolar will bring its five-megawatt concentrating solar plant online, a crucial step on the way to larger utility-scale systems.

eSolar demonstration plant
eSolar's demonstration plant in Lancaster, Calif. eSolar

eSolar is doing what so many other solar start-ups wish they were already doing: feeding electricity into the grid.

The 2-year-old concentrating solar company on Wednesday will host an event in Lancaster, Calif., to celebrate the opening of a demonstration facility that's converting the sun's desert heat into electricity.

At five megawatts--enough to supply about 1,500 homes or up to 4,000 during peak hours--it's making a modest contribution to overall electricity generation. But the Lancaster plant has been crucial to proving that eSolar's technology produces cost-effective electricity and can be replicated, said company CEO Bill Gross.

Concentrating solar power systems concentrate sunlight to make steam, which is converted into electricity through a turbine. eSolar's plant is the first to use a single tower to make steam, which is slightly more efficient than traditional reflective trough technology, according to Gross. It uses thousands of computer-controlled mirrors to reflect the light onto the tower.

He said the plant produces power at less than the retail rate for electricity in California, which is 13 cents per kilowatt-hour.

The company has signed deals to supply its technology and projects to energy project developer NRG Energy for plants in the southwest U.S. and ACME in India. Gross said those projects are expected to break ground later this year.

For a full interview with Bill Gross, see this Q&A .

 

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