Solel Raises $105 Million for Solar Thermal

The race to build solar thermal power plants is heating up in the U.S. Southwest desert this year, and companies that are building these massive solar systems will need a lot of funding to get these things constructed. This morning Israeli solar thermal plant builders Solel, said they have raised a gigantic $105 million from Ecofin Limited, a London based investment firm.

The company needed the investment in order to get a 553 MW solar plant built in the California Mojave desert (the company has a deal to sell the power to California utility PG&E). That’s in addition to a 150 MW solar thermal plant the company is building in Spain. With solar thermal plants costing on the order of hundreds of millions to billions of dollars to build, Solel will likely need to raise even more money than this nine digit investment — something the company acknowledges briefly in their press release.

Solel’s President Avi Brenmiller told us back in July that the company had previously been financed by a couple of Belgian investors and they had been growing the company based on orders for a power project they did with Florida Power and Light, but would probably look for other sources of financing. Since that time the company has also added a substantial amount of employees.

Solel needs to move quickly as there are at least 4 other companies fighting for utility agreements and financing to build solar thermal plants in the U.S.: Stirling Energy Systems, SkyFuel, Ausra and BrightSource Energy are all looking to start construction on their next-generation of planned plants soon, with the hopes of producing power within the next couple of years. Solel is one of the older companies working in this space and their technology is based on the traditional parabolic trough design (see image). Competitors contend that that traditional technology is more expensive than newer designs.

Even Google sees the opportunity of large scale clean power generated by the sun’s heat, and has invested $10 million into solar thermal company eSolar. For all of these companies, 2008 will be a race to see who can clear the permitting and bureaucratic hurdles first. And a year after that hopefully we’ll start seeing some of these next-generation of plants built and more and more clean power provided by the sun.

Update: At this morning’s CSP U.S. Summit conference Solel President Avi Brenmiller made Solel’s funding announcement to the press room as well as announcing Solel Spain’s new CEO Jose Luis Moran and introducing Solel’s new U.S. president, Kevin Swartz. Craig is on the scene at the show and will bring us some more news from the event.