December 18, 2007 The sunshine-rich state of Nevada is set to be home to the first US manufacturing plant for solar thermal power systems. The 130,000-square-foot, highly automated manufacturing and distribution center will produce the reflectors, towers and absorber tubes needed to create and run solar thermal plants, doubling worldwide output of key components for Ausra Inc’s solar thermal power plant technology and creating “green collar” jobs in the process.
The factory will be capable of making over 700 megawatts (electric) of solar collectors per year and is expected to employ up to 50 highly skilled manufacturing workers in the Las Vegas area. “Ausra can fill four square miles with solar collectors every year from this one factory, enough to provide market-priced zero-pollution power to 500,000 homes. With market-priced solar power, we are entering the Solar Decade, in which massive construction of solar plants will take place. We are investing now in the systems and capacity to serve that need,” said Bob Fishman, president and CEO of Ausra.
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Thermal solar plants are designed to store steam and deliver power all day long, rather than just when the sun is shining. Sun shines on fields of mirrors which have permanent receivers above them that boil water using the sun’s heat. The steam then turns a turbine which generates electricity. To complete the cycle, the cold steam returns to water form and is reused for boiling by the receivers. The process of generating energy works in much the same way as traditional fossil-fuel power plants, but without use of combustible fuels and without emissions. Ausra says its innovations in mirror systems for solar power generation have brought the price of solar power down to the level of gas-fired power today, and will soon reach prices associated with coal-fired generation.
The Nevada plant will begin regular operation in April 2008. Ausra chose the location due to massive solar resources, available land and a growing demand for clean energy. Neighboring California has a huge market for renewable energy and is projected to demand many thousands of megawatts over the coming years. In November 2007, Ausra and California utility PG&E announced a power purchase agreement for a one-square-mile, 177-megawatt power plant, enough to power over 120,000 homes, to be built in central California. The new manufacturing facility will make the solar field equipment for the project and for other power projects throughout the American Southwest.