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More 'turnkey' options for thermal solar

eSolar and Ferrostaal will offer full-service design and construction of heliostat-based solar thermal power plants.

Instead of conventional solar plants that use solar panels to convert light into electricity, eSolar's thermal solar plants use software-controlled heliostats to reflect sunlight onto a central tower to heat water for steam. The steam is then used to rotate a turbine to generate electricity.

eSolar is partnering with a power plant developer to offer utilities a soup-to-nuts approach for designing, building, and installing thermal solar power plants, the solar start-up announced Thursday.

Power plant developer Ferrostaal will act as a general contractor to build the plants, while eSolar will provide the solar thermal field technology design and development. The two plan to initially offer the service in Spain, the United Arab Emirates, and South Africa.

eSolar, which was created by Idealab and funded by, makes utility-scale thermal solar systems that operate differently than conventional solar plants. Instead, using solar panels to convert light into electricity, eSolar's thermal solar plants consist of software-controlled heliostats (mirrors) that reflect sunlight onto a centralized tower. The heat generated by the tower creates steam from water to rotate a turbine that generates electricity.

eSolar already has a significant list of projects in China and the Southwest of the U.S., but this deal will provide it with a greater reach in Europe, the Middle East, and South Africa. Ferrostaal, meanwhile, which already installs parabolic trough and Fresnel lens solar plants, can add heliostat systems to its portfolio. The partnership will also increase the speed with which the companies can get solar thermal plants designed, built, and running, both companies said.

But eSolar is certainly not the only company offering a "turnkey" solar thermal option to utilities.

After Solar Trust acquired the rights to about 726 megawatts worth of solar projects for Southern California Edison in August 2009, the company explained it would be offering the utility a "turnkey solution" for thermal solar. In addition to designing, building, and installing the solar thermal plants, Solar Trust also plans to manage and run the plant facilities.

Of course the comparison is not completely apples-to-apples. While Solar Trust also offers thermal solar solutions like eSolar, it uses parabolic troughs to reflect sunlight and heat liquid for steam instead of heliostats.