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As solar thermal firms like eSolar have started flipping switches on their first projects in U.S. deserts, I’ve been eagerly waiting the stirling engine solar folks to officially enter the game. Looks like we’re getting one project at the end of this month: Stirling Energy Systems and its developer partner Tessera Solar are planning an invite-only kick-off event for the media on Jan. 22 to inaugurate the first project to use Stirling Energy System’s “SunCatcher” solar dish.
Stirling Energy and Tessera have built Maricopa Solar, a 1.5MW solar project in Peoria, Ariz. (Maricopa County) that will use 60 SunCatchers to sell clean power to local Arizona utility Salt River Project. The ribbon-cutting event is supposed to feature Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Department of Energy Solar Program Manager John Lushetsky.
This is just the first small project from the Stirling Energy crew, and the company says that later this year it will start construction of its two much larger solar plants in California — a potentially 900MW plant in Imperial County, Calif. for San Diego Gas & Electric, and a 850MW solar plant in San Bernardino County, Calif. for Southern California Edison.
Founded in 1996, Phoenix, Ariz.-based Stirling Energy has developed a 25 KW electric solar dish that focuses the sun rays directly onto a stirling engine. Stirling engines, which were invented centuries ago, can be more efficient and quieter than internal combustion engines and use a closed system of gases to generate power. Most solar thermal technologies, by contrast, concentrate the sun’s rays onto liquid, which powers a turbine.
Stirling isn’t the only company turning to stirling engines for solar power. One example is Infinia, which is backed by a gaggle of A-list Silicon Valley-ers, including Bill Gross’ Idealab and Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital. Infinia’s technology is similar to Stirling’s and uses mirrored concentrator dishes to track the sun and reflect its rays into a highly efficient Stirling heat engine. Stirling Energy has raised $100 million from Dublin, Ireland’s NTR, which in the process took a 52-percent stake in the company, according to the Cleantech Group.