E&E News PM has the news on the reemergence of this essential form of solar power:
SAN FRANCISCO — California regulators today approved a solar thermal contract for Southern California Edison, the first such project for the utility and the first to count toward its state-mandated renewable energy target.
The state Public Utilities Commission approved Southern California Edison’s purchase of power from the 105-megawatt Gaskell Sun Tower project in Kern County, located in the southern part of the Central Valley. The plant is being developed by eSolar Inc., a renewable energy startup backed by Oak Investment Partners, Idealab, and Google’s for-profit philanthropic arm, Google.org. One of Google.org’s goals is trying to get the cost of wind and solar power below that of coal-fired power; it has invested at least $130 million in eSolar this year.
Kudos to Google for backing solar baseload. More details below:
The Gaskell project would be the country’s second-largest solar thermal plant, after Florida Power & Light’s 310-megawatt Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert. Slated to come online in April 2012, the plant has the option of expanding to 245 megawatts.
While the vast majority of solar plants in the United States use photovoltaic technology, companies are increasingly turning to solar thermal, which produces steam to run turbines. Photovoltaic systems are much less efficient and more subject to short-term fluctuations in sunlight.
Edison is the closest of the state’s three investor-owned utilities to meeting the 2010 target of 20 percent renewables, with contracts signed through 2012 for about 17 percent. (Utilities have until 2012 to meet the 2010 goal, although they are also subject to a 2020 target.) Edison asked the CPUC for permission to count the entire power purchase toward its 2010 target of 20 percent renewables. The plant’s output would contribute between 1 and 3 percent of Edison’s 2012 procurement target.