eSolar Wins Massive Solar Thermal Deal in China

Updated: China isn’t just going gangbusters on solar photovoltaic systems (like this 2 GW deal with thin film solar firm First Solar). Over the weekend solar thermal startup eSolar said it has won a licensing deal with Chinese power equipment maker Penglai Electric to build 2 GW of solar thermal projects in China over the next decade.

eSolar says this will be China’s largest solar thermal project — technology which uses mirrors and lenses to concentrate the sun rays to power a steam turbine — and the first 92 MW project will get built this year. A company called China Shaanxi Yulin Huayang New Energy Co. will own and operate the initial projects.

This deal is huge for the startup, which is just 3 years old and uses modular designs, small mirrors and computing power to lower the cost of solar thermal technology. The company turned on it first solar thermal pilot project in the U.S. in August 2009, the 5 MW “Sierra SunTower,” which uses 24,000 mirrors and is located in Lancaster in Southern California.

The young history hasn’t stopped it from winning over international and U.S. deals. Over the past couple of years, the company has inked a deal with California utility Southern California Edison for a 245 MW solar thermal power plant (via NRG Energy), won two more 92 MW deals with NRG Energy (which will sell power to PG&E and El Paso Electric), signed an agreement with India’s Acme Group to build up to 1 GW of solar thermal projects (Acme also made a $30 million equity investment in the company), and established a partnership with a South African-based energy firm to expand sales operations across the sub-Saharan region of the continent.

Investors are clearly interested in the firm, too. eSolar has raised at least $160 million from Bill Gross’ Idealab, Google.org, Acme and other investors.

So what’s all the fuss about? eSolar former CEO Asif Ansari (the current upcoming CEO is chip veteran John Van Scoter, who will take over on Februrary 1) previously explained it to us that the company builds 33 MW modular power plants, with thousands of flat mirrors that are one square meter in size (the company has since expanded that to 46 MW modules). The company can replicate the number of modules depending on the size of the plant the utility needs, and the uniform modularity makes it easy for any sized utility to incorporate solar thermal power into the grid, as well as increases the addressable market in developing countries.

Todd Woody reports that eSolar already manufactures its mirrors in China, and under the terms of the agreement with Penglai will also build its power plant receivers in the country.

Image courtesy of eSolar.

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