Thursday, October 23, 2008

Solar - Part 1a, Ausra switches on new power plant

Ausra switches on new power plant

From the San Jose Business Journal:

[Ausra] switched on the first solar thermal power plant built in the country in nearly 20 years today at an event in Bakersfield.

This is the first plant Ausra has constructed in the U.S. and is crucial to Ausra’s ability to raise financing beyond the venture capital it already has, its executives said. The demonstration today was important for Ausra to showcase its technology, said CEO Bob Fishman.

“We do this to prove to PG&E and the rest of the world and to customers that we’re for real and that it works and that we’re not just talking about doing solar power, we’re doing it,” Fishman said. “And to get them to accept the technology and purchase it, I think requires a demonstration that can actually do what we say it will do.”

Ausra’s 5 megawatt system is a test facility and produces enough electricity to power about 3,500 average homes. It includes 720 mirrors that are 8 by 50 feet long that direct the sun’s rays to a solar thermal tower. The heat from the sun heats water inside the tower turning it to steam and that steam. The steam runs a turbine that produces electricity. And that electricity will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Ausra’s investors include Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers and Khosla Ventures as well as KERN Partners, Generation Investment Management and Starfish Ventures.

Speaking for me personally, I'm really proud of the progress that Ausra has made in commercializing their technology. Many technology founders underestimate the difficulty of scaling up a technology, and when it comes to bending metal and pouring concrete, meeting budget and schedule can be pretty harrowing, and numerous companies have stumbled trying.

I'll return with a detailed discussion of solar next time, but I thought this announcement fit well right here.

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