eSolar launches power tower concentrated solar thermal plant — live video cast today, 1 pm EDT

Watch eSolar’s launch live here at 10 am PDT.  CEO Bill Gross will be joined by David Meyers, Executive Director of The Wildlands Conservancy, and leading clean energy experts Dan Kammen of UC Berkeley and’s Dan Reicher (my boss from DOE days) .

Below is a fascinating video from a recent episode of National Geographic‘s World’s Toughest Fixes:  “In this episode, discover the engineering feats behind the development of the eSolar Sierra SunTower power plant.”

Of course, concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) aka solar baseload is indeed a core climate solution.

I asked the company whether future systems will have storage — no reply yet.  CSP with storage is going gangbusters elsewhere (see “World’s largest solar plant with thermal storage to be built in Arizona “” total of 8500 MW of this core climate solution planned for 2014 in U.S. alone“).

Here is more detail on eSolar from its press release:


LANCASTER, Calif. – August 5, 2009 – With 24,000 mirrors glimmering under the Antelope Valley summer sun, eSolar, a leading provider of modular, scalable solar thermal power technology, today unveiled its 5-megawatt (MW) Sierra SunTower solar power plant.  The full-scale power plant, the only power tower of its kind in the U.S., produces electricity for Southern California Edison (SCE) and can power more than 4,000 homes in California’s Antelope Valley.

The eSolar technology resolves many of the problems that have held back large scale solar in the past including cost, speed of deployment and proximity to existing transmission lines. eSolar uses advanced software algorithms to precisely focus thousands of mirrors on a single point to efficiently harvest the sun’s energy and achieve economies of scale with a smaller footprint than anyone else in the business.

“Today, we unveil a new blueprint for solar energy – one that leverages Moore’s law rather than more steel,” said Bill Gross, CEO of eSolar. “Sierra is just the beginning.   Soon eSolar technology will be deployed worldwide to provide clean, affordable energy to hundreds of thousands of homes.”

Constructed in less than one year, eSolar’s Sierra SunTower power plant marks the first of several developments in the Antelope Valley region using eSolar technology. Over the course of construction, this project created 300 jobs.

“With today’s historic plant opening, eSolar is proving that California’s energy and environmental leadership are advancing carbon-free, cost-effective energy that can be used around the world,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “Through measures such as AB 32 and the California Solar Initiative, I have worked to create an environment that allows companies such as eSolar to thrive in our state – creating green jobs, boosting our economy and preparing us for the energy demands of the future.”

eSolar received the support and cooperation of the City of Lancaster throughout the construction process. “The City of Lancaster is proud to be home to the nation’s newest solar power tower plant. This plant and eSolar’s progressive growth plans throughout the Antelope Valley are the crown jewels in our ongoing effort to truly become the Alternative Energy Capital of the World,” said R. Rex Parris, Mayor of Lancaster.

eSolar develops its California projects on parcels of previously disturbed private lands, avoiding many of the permitting and environmental pitfalls of development on pristine desert lands. Located in northern Lancaster, Sierra SunTower is built on private land designated for heavy industrial use.  The decision to site projects solely on private land is unique within the utility-scale solar industry, and the distinction has garnered support from local environmental advocates.

“eSolar demonstrates that pristine wildlands do not have to be sacrificed in order to keep the lights on with clean energy,” remarked David Myers, Executive Director of the Wildlands Conservancy. “eSolar’s efforts to reduce its impact on the surrounding environment demonstrates a level of foresight we hope to see from other solar developers in the future.”

Sierra SunTower was fully financed and developed by eSolar, proving the rapid deployment, pre-fabricated method eSolar patented and pioneered.  Building on Sierra’s success, eSolar will deploy many more plants around the country and around the world.
In February, eSolar announced an agreement with NRG Energy, Inc. to develop three plants in California and New Mexico that will generate up to 465 megawatts of electricity using eSolar technology. Additionally, in March, eSolar licensed its technology to India-based ACME Group for approximately 1 gigawatt of eSolar solar thermal capacity.

“Today we take an important step to a new dawn of power generation,” said David Crane, President and CEO of NRG Energy. “With eSolar demonstrating the commercial viability of solar thermal power on a large scale, and with NRG planning to implement the technology at scale across the Southwest, we will begin to harness the sun to power our lives.”

Streaming live at 10 am PDT and on demand immediately following the event:

14 Responses to eSolar launches power tower concentrated solar thermal plant — live video cast today, 1 pm EDT

  1. Rick says:

    Looks like a great project. I’m watching the launch. Maybe this is the way for you guys to go. Forget the CO2 thing and focus on big green projects to save fuel and get cleaner air. Everybody likes stuff like this. You don’t need to buy into AGW to like green projects.

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    Bravo to eSolar, And . . .

    In the past, I’ve done some work related to CSP, and the potential is huge.

    For some reason having to do with software on my computer, I can’t watch the press conference. But, I wanted to add a few thoughts here, regarding the broader solar picture.

    While I applaud eSolar (and also others) for their technological advances and cost reductions, please keep in mind the whole competitive group of companies trying various CSP approaches and other related approaches. Although my involvement is about six months behind the times, we need to encourage a range of approaches, understand the best ones for different circumstances and requirements, and energetically move forward. The potential of solar energy is HUGE, and there’s not reason, of course, to put all eggs in one basket. So, as we watch and applaud eSolar, we should do the same with Ausra, BrightSource, and the others. There are a number of companies working hard on this stuff.

    I’d also suggest (to Joe) that you might want to do a piece with the NREL folks to talk about the latest state of solar, what’s up, what the advances are, and the bottlenecks, and how the public and politicians can be more helpful. I can’t recall their names, but some of the NREL folks are great.

    Unless things have changed in recent months, although everyone agrees that the potential is huge (I mean, HUGE), and costs are becoming more and more competitive, the various companies don’t make it easy to make direct comparisons among the various technologies and costs involved. It’s a competitive environment. As things progress, hopefully there will be more and more transparency, and shared understanding, regarding costs, in order to make comparisons easier. In the meantime, perhaps the NREL folks can be helpful on that.

    Also, Joe, I love the Thomas Edison quote.

    As the Beatles sang, “Here Comes The Sun”.



  3. anonymous says:

    Rick, if there were a CO2 cap in place there would be a lot more incentive in the market to build projects like this, and that’s certainly independent of whether AGW is real or not.

  4. anonymous says:

    “You don’t need to buy into AGW to like green projects.”

    So why do you like green projects?

  5. Rick says:

    Why do I like green projects? I don’t like breathing smog and mercury and obviously fossil fuels are limited in availability. Thats enough.

  6. John Redford says:

    Several other points:

    This is a pretty small installation: 5 MW peak. That’s two modern windmills or a small hydroelectric dam. One has to start small, of course. This installation has a boiler and generator system for only 2 power towers, while the full system is supposed to share them among 16 towers. The overhead of the boiler/generator means that a small system is more expensive.

    eSolar’s web site says that the heliostats themselves are built in China, and need only unskilled American labor to install. I’m sure there are real cost advantages to building it there, and one can hardly blame eSolar for doing everything to make their system more cost competitive, but that does belie all the talk about green manufacturing jobs. I don’t know why people expected that green jobs wouldn’t get off-shored just like everything else, but that’s been a talking point.

    The most interesting part of this design to me is using sophisticated software to make up for unsophisticated heliostats. The software is said to handle the calibration and pointing automatically, so much less surveying is needed for installation, and much poorer motors and mirrors can be used during operation. They can even focus on different parts of the tower boiler! I wonder how these 24,000 heliostats communicate. Wireless? Cat5 Ethernet cables? Some nice stuff could be done to handle wind loads and the gradual failure of mirrors.

  7. Ronald Brak says:

    John, the overall level of employment in a country is basically determined by the interest rates set by the reserve bank, or the Fed in the case of the United States. Building solar, wind, coal or nuclear capacity does not create jobs. Nor does building an ice cream parlor. The decision to build a solar power plant merely determines where economic activity will take place, it doesn’t create it. If eSolar had decided not to go ahead with the solar thermal plant the investers would have invested their money elsewhere in the economy. Generally speaking, whenever you hear anyone talking about any project creating jobs they are lying or haven’t thought through the implications of what would happen if the project did not take place.

    As for jobs being off-shored, every dollar that is spent by Americans to buy something made in China is a dollar spent by Chinese people to buy an American product or service. If this wasn’t true then Chinese people would be sending their goods to the United States for free, which would be a pretty good deal for the US, but something that isn’t likely to happen. However, the pain and benefits of off-shoring production are not evenly distributed and produces losers and winners in the United States, but overall in dollar terms it’s a benefit. In terms of human welfare I believe it’s a big plus, as Chinese workers benefit greatly, but if you just consider the United States it’s not quite as clear. Everyone in the US benefits from cheaper Chinese goods, but many manufacturing workers are hit hard and large profits are concentrated in only a small number of hands. However, trying to solve this problem by limiting trade sounds like a lose-lose solution. To me it seems more efficient to ensure that some of the benefits of trade go to those who are hurt by it, including education and training to improve their incomes and employment prospects.

  8. John says:

    Solar projects create jobs because they replace 20-year fuel payment streams with large construction projects and maintenance jobs here and now. has a great NREL study which shows that large-scale solar projects create 4x the construction jobs, 2x the permanent jobs, and 4x the in-state economic impact of fossil power plants of the same capacity.

    (That said, eSolar is in many ways the weakest player in the field. Of all the solar power players, eSolar has the highest hype to reality ratio; it remains to be seen how their technology plays out as actual powerplants (rather than showplaces like today’s) are built.)

  9. Rockfish says:

    I admit I’ve been skeptic in the past of all the vapor-ware that the solar industry promotes. But I am glad to be proven wrong about at least one of them.
    Actually having one of these CSP projects come to fruition is very encouraging.

  10. Martin says:

    Mr. Brak,

    look up “Current account deficit”. Seriously.


  11. Ronald Brak says:

    The current account deficit does make it look like the US is receiving goods from China for free, but the T-bills the US government has sold will have to be paid for in the future, presumably through tax hikes.

  12. Martin says:

    Mr. Brak,

    I don’t know why you think it looks like we get goods for free from China. Seems an odd statement.

    The massive current account deficit rather undercuts the bizarre (though oft-repeated) claim that everything we buy from China just turns into some good or service they buy from us. In fact, the current account deficit had a hand in creating the current financial and economic crisis. And to state that “everyone in the US benefits from cheaper Chinese goods” is breathtakingly ignorant… and also contradicted by your statements that offshoring creates winners and losers.

    Given the contradictions in your posst, I’m not quite sure what to make of you. You seem to have a wonderfully theoretical conception of economics. Too bad the real world doesn’t behave that way.



  13. Ronald Brak says:

    Martin, the United States is getting something in return for its trade deficit. It is getting goods now in return for IOUs that will have to be paid in the future with interest. It is the decision by people in the US to pay for goods by going into debt, not trade with China itself that resulted in the deficit. Americans were at perfect liberty to pay as they went, but didn’t.

    My statement that everybody benefits from cheap chinese goods is a little sweeping. I should have said that everyone who buys cheap Chinese goods benefits from them, which I presume is most Americans.

  14. Martin says:


    the current account deficit, by definition, is a result of us buying more goods and services from China than they buy from us. It is not, necessarily, connected to indebtedness.

    Are you, perhaps, confusing the current account deficit with the government deficit?

    I go back to your original post, and almost point by point I end up shaking my head wondering where you get this stuff. My best thought is that it’s from being stuffed full of macro-economic theory with little real-world experience to put it into context.

    Projects that create jobs often do, in fact, create jobs. Not all ways money is invested or spent creates jobs (at least not necessarily as efficiently).

    Money spent buying things from China does not necessarily flow through to China buying goods and services from us (in fact it does not, thus the current account deficit… Chinese corporations are incredible savers).

    Cheap goods from China do not necessarily benefit the US as a whole. If the value of the jobs lost exceeds the value saved by buying cheaper goods, then cheap goods are probably not a net benefit, not to mention the micro-economic impact on those who have lost jobs to oversees manufacturing.

    Note that I’m not against free and open world trade. I suspect that in the long run it will be a good thing. But don’t take too sanguine an attitude towards it. It is not a panacea. It can be destructive. Measured, thoughtful protectionism is no sin.