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Published on October 27th, 2008 | by Sarah Lozanova

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First Solar Thermal Plant in 20 Years Launches in CA



solar energy

By turning a long line of mirrors, the first solar thermal plant in nearly two decades was launched last week in Bakersfield, California. Unlike solar photovoltaic systems that convert sunlight into electricity, this plant will focus sunlight on tubes that contains water. The light heats the water, creating steam, thus turning turbines.

At full capacity, Kimberlina will generate 5 megawatts of power, enough for 3,500 homes in Central California. Although this is a small amount of energy when compared to other utility scale power plants, this plant will serve as a gateway for a much larger solar plant.

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Ausra, the manufacturer of the solar panels announced a purchase power agreement in November, 2007 for a 177 megawatt solar plant. Once completed, the Carrizo Plains solar plant in Central California will generate enough power for 120,000 homes.

Solar technology is particularly well suited for the American Southwest where vast amounts of sunshine make this region rich with solar energy potential. Air conditioners are responsible for a large amount of the electric load and the highest electric demand corresponds with solar radiation.

Ausra is well known for their claim that 100% of the US electric load (day and night) could be generated in an area that is 92 miles by 92 miles. This is made possible by steam storage, thus allowing solar plants to operate after the sun has set.

Sarah Lozanova is a freelance writer that is passionate about the new green economy and is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Energy International Quarterly, ThinkGreen.com, Triple Pundit, Green Business Quarterly, Renewable Energy World, and Green Business Quarterly. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and is a co-founder of Trees Across the Miles, an urban reforestation initiative.

Related Posts on Ausra:

Solar Thermal Electricity: Catching the Eye of Utility Companies

Solar Thermal Electricity: Can it Replace Coal, Gas, and Oil?

Solar Fuels the Nevada Economy

Photo Credit: Ausra Inc.

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About the Author

is passionate about the new green economy and renewable energy. Sarah's experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and is a co-founder of Trees Across the Miles, an urban reforestation initiative. When she can escape the internet vortex, she enjoys playing in the forest, paddling down rivers, or twisting into yoga poses.



  • Michael

    As a Bakersfield resident, it makes me proud to see stuff like this our town. It nice to see that we’re not just about oil and agriculture.

  • Michael

    As a Bakersfield resident, it makes me proud to see stuff like this our town. It nice to see that we’re not just about oil and agriculture.

  • Sam

    Wouldn’t this also be useful for desalination?

  • Sam

    Wouldn’t this also be useful for desalination?

  • Fred

    I agree that we need to see the costs of this kind of plant. I am all for clean power but the public should be aware of what the costs are per kilowatt.

    Also what about environmental impact of covering all that desert with these generators? Will the Sierra Club start protesting about destruction of some animal’s habitat?

  • Fred

    I agree that we need to see the costs of this kind of plant. I am all for clean power but the public should be aware of what the costs are per kilowatt.

    Also what about environmental impact of covering all that desert with these generators? Will the Sierra Club start protesting about destruction of some animal’s habitat?

  • Mark

    In 1857 a magnitude 8 earthquake split the earth in two there.

    The Carrizo Plain is overdue for another big one.

  • Mark

    In 1857 a magnitude 8 earthquake split the earth in two there.

    The Carrizo Plain is overdue for another big one.

  • daniel

    I do really enjoy this type of tech. We are killing ourselves dayily with so much gas burning and we should explre new tech.

  • daniel

    I do really enjoy this type of tech. We are killing ourselves dayily with so much gas burning and we should explre new tech.

  • Sarah Lozanova

    Hatem- These solar thermal panels do not have photovoltaic cells which typically contain silicon. These panels produce electricity by generating steam, which turns turbines.

  • hatem ben miled

    photovolaic cells are too expensive and take large surfaces also silicon and almost untraceable these days thus I see the future with organic cells

  • Sarah Lozanova

    D Whitmann,

    You are right about Ausra having a plant already in New South Wales. It is interesting because it works with a coal power plant to reduce the amount of coal it uses. Here’s more info on it http://ecoworldly.com/2008/08/20/coal-power-plant-retrofit-with-solar/

  • D Whitmann

    I think Ausra already runs a plant in australia near a power station in NSW. Good to see that it is working in america. More clean energy can only be a good thing!

  • D Whitmann

    I think Ausra already runs a plant in australia near a power station in NSW. Good to see that it is working in america. More clean energy can only be a good thing!

  • http://www.southafrica.to South African

    It’s very encouraging to hear about this. I’m interested in the economics of the situation. Would love it to be developed in SA as well, where there is plenty of sunshine (swathes of the country are semi-desert).

  • http://www.southafrica.to South African

    It’s very encouraging to hear about this. I’m interested in the economics of the situation. Would love it to be developed in SA as well, where there is plenty of sunshine (swathes of the country are semi-desert).

  • Hector

    I haven’t yet found an article that talks about the cost of a recent advance like this. I think it’s high time, especially with the ongoing crisis, that we see some real investment opportunities. This sector should flourish, if I’m not mistaken.

  • Hector

    I haven’t yet found an article that talks about the cost of a recent advance like this. I think it’s high time, especially with the ongoing crisis, that we see some real investment opportunities. This sector should flourish, if I’m not mistaken.

  • John Jones

    That truly is fascinating stuff.

    Jiff

  • John Jones

    That truly is fascinating stuff.

    Jiff

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