The deals keep coming for solar thermal startup eSolar, indicating confidence from utilities –- but also increasing pressure on the Pasadena, Calif.-based company to deliver quickly. The startup on Thursday announced plans to build a 92-megawatt plant in Lancaster, Calif. It has signed a deal to sell 92 megawatts of power to Alpine SunTower, a subsidiary of Princeton, N.J.-based energy company NRG Energy, which will supply the solar power to Northern California’s Pacific Gas and Electric.
The project mirrors another deal announced earlier this month, in which the company agreed to develop a 92-megawatt plant in southern New Mexico with NRG Energy for El Paso Electric. Both deals are part of the companies’ previously announced goal of developing up to 500 megawatts of solar thermal power in the United States. eSolar is also building a 245-megawatt solar thermal plant for Rosemead, Calif.-based utility Southern California Edison.
All these sales contracts are good news for eSolar, especially if it’s able to reduce its risk and cost by duplicating project designs. As it is, the 92-megawatt plants are made up of two modular 46-megawatt plants, intended to make it easier for the company to reach larger volumes. If it can deliver all these plants as promised, it will validate its claim that its approach allows for rapid deployment at low cost.
But the deals also up the ante for the company, as utilities are relying on it to deliver an increasing number of megawatts to meet state renewable energy standards in states like California and New Mexico. If utilities count on getting too many megawatts of capacity from the same company and that company -– in this case, eSolar — ends up not being able to deliver, the utilities could end up falling a good number of megawatts short (in eSolar’s case, 429 megawatts and counting).
Of course, utilities are signing many deals for newer, riskier technology (solar in space!), increasing the likelihood that some of those projects will fall through. Hopefully the wide variety will also make it more likely that most of them will actually succeed.