By turning a long line of mirrors, the first solar thermal plant in nearly two decades was launched last week in Bakersfield, California. Unlike solar photovoltaic systems that convert sunlight into electricity, this plant will focus sunlight on tubes that contains water. The light heats the water, creating steam, thus turning turbines.
At full capacity, Kimberlina will generate 5 megawatts of power, enough for 3,500 homes in Central California. Although this is a small amount of energy when compared to other utility scale power plants, this plant will serve as a gateway for a much larger solar plant.
Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and Ausra, the manufacturer of the solar panels announced a purchase power agreement in November, 2007 for a 177 megawatt solar plant. Once completed, the Carrizo Plains solar plant in Central California will generate enough power for 120,000 homes.
Solar technology is particularly well suited for the American Southwest where vast amounts of sunshine make this region rich with solar energy potential. Air conditioners are responsible for a large amount of the electric load and the highest electric demand corresponds with solar radiation.
Ausra is well known for their claim that 100% of the US electric load (day and night) could be generated in an area that is 92 miles by 92 miles. This is made possible by steam storage, thus allowing solar plants to operate after the sun has set.
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