The power of 625 suns comes to Tracy, California

Who wield the power of 625 suns? PG&E.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read

GreenVolts, which builds utility solar power plants that feature high-performance concentrators, has signed a deal with Pacific Gas & Electric to build a 2-megawatt solar power plant near Tracy, Calif., in 2008.

When built, it will be the largest concentrator solar plant for utilities in the world.

In Germany, utility solar power plants--which essentially are large numbers of solar panels sitting in a field or on top of a roof--are a big deal. That's because the government subsidizes them. Sellers get 45 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity they send to the grid, far higher than the normal price. Farmers are ripping up pastures to erect solar plants.

In the U.S. the benefits aren't as great. Thus, most solar panels are sold to individuals, who put them on their roofs. In some states, however, utilities are required to start getting more of their energy from renewable resources. PG&E has a mandate to get 20 percent of its power from renewable resources by 2010. Hence, PG&E wants to build its own solar fields. (Las Vegas has strong mandates too.)

GreenVolts will try to stand out of the crowd with its concentrator, which was originally developed at the national labs. By concentrating vastly more sunlight onto the solar cell than would shine on it in ordinary circumstances, an individual solar cell can generate more electricity than they would in normal circumstances. According to Bob Cart, the light that his company's concentrator can deliver to a cell is the same amount that the cell would get if there were 625 suns in the sky.

The technology also has sort of a nice "Conan the Destroyer" ring to it. It could also be good for Tracy's image. The town has previously been associated with the Altamont concert and a large tire fire.

The Electric Power Research Institute has also kicked off research into the feasibility of building large--like 500 megawatts large--solar plants with concentrators.

The solar panels also rotate on what GreenVolts calls the CarouSol. There's no shortage of puns in the solar world.