Solar Trust offers 'turnkey' solar thermal option

The joint venture of a solar plant manufacturer and a construction firm hopes the U.S. will see it as the go-to company for solar thermal power plants.

Solar Millennium's Andosol 1, a parabolic trough power installation in Spain that went live in December 2008. Solar Millennium

Newly formed thermal solar energy company Solar Trust announced on Tuesday it acquired the rights to Solar Millennium's potentially lucrative agreement with Southern California Edison (SCE).

The power purchase agreement, which was announced in June, gives Solar Trust the opportunity to build up to 726 megawatts' worth of solar power plants.

If approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, the project would include the construction and installation of two or three 242-megawatt power plants that would be operational by 2013 or 2014.

Solar Trust's strategy is to offer what it calls a "turnkey solution" to thermal solar energy development. It says it will be a company that can provide not only the design, development, construction, and installation of a thermal solar plant, but also the running and management of the plant once it's functional.

But Solar Trust is actually a joint venture of two German companies making their way into the U.S. market. Solar Millennium AG is a company specializing in parabolic trough solar thermal power plants, and MAN Ferrostaal, which has an Ohio-based subsidiary, is an engineering and construction company.

Once formed, Solar Trust acquired Solar Millennium, Solar Millennium AG's Berkeley, Calif.-based subsidiary that already held the agreement with SCE.

"With thousands of fully-funded and completed industrial projects in the combined portfolios of our business partners, we expect to become the industry leader in the development and construction of these solar thermal power plants in the U.S," Uwe T. Schmidt, CEO of Solar Trust of America, said in a statement.

Parabolic trough solar thermal is the next generation of solar thermal tech. Companies like Ausra, eSolar, and Solel have already been raising money or developing projects with the technology.

Instead of using solar panels to convert light into electricity, the parabolic troughs used in these thermal solar plants reflect sunlight to heat liquid that in turn makes steam to generate electricity. While known to be one of the most cost-effective forms of renewable energy, it's most effective in sunny, desert areas like the southwestern U.S., Spain, and Egypt.

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