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A solar power tower is a solar power plant that uses fields of hundreds of mirrors to focus sunlight on a boiler to produce electricity.

This new power plant has two towers and 24,000 mirrors and produces around 5 megawatts of power, enough to power about 4000 homes in areas near the Lancaster California power plant. ESolar has strong funding from the likes of Google and other large clean-tech focused venture capital firms.

ESolar's new power plant is small scale, but an excellent demonstration of their technology. The goal of the project (one might say this is the goal of all solar power projects actually) is to produce electricity cheaper than coal. But ESolar seems to have a technology that is impressing people in the know. Already they have contracts to build 465 more megawatts of these solar power towers at three sites in California and New Mexico.
Hello. This is Hank Green, chief editor of ecogeek.org. Just a few hours ago, by my count anyway, at noon Pacific on Wednesday October 5th 2009, eSolar switched on the United States's first solar power tower. A solar power tower, of course, being a solar power plant that uses thousands of mirrors to focus the sunlight on a central boiler at the top of a tower. The new power plant has two towers and 24,000 mirrors and produces around 5 megawatts of power, enough to power around 4,000 homes in areas near the Lancaster, California, power plant.

eSolar, this company that built this solar power tower has strong funding form the likes of Google and other large venture capital firms interested in clean tech and is headed up by Bill Gross and Idealab, the company that brought you everything from the .tv domain to Picasa, that great photo editing software from Google, with a few dozen failed startups in between. Idealab has gone almost 100% clean tech in recent years, not just with eSolar but also Aptera, that awesome car company working on 150 mile per gallon cars.

This new power plant is small scale, it's commercial but it's more of a demonstration of their technology. The goal of eSolar, and one can say that this is a goal shared by all solar power companies, is to become more inexpensive than coal. However, eSolar seems to have technology that is impressing a lot of people in the know. They already have contracts to build more than 465 megawatts of these solar power towers in three sites in California and New Mexico.

These solar power towers are said to have a relatively swift path to grid parity which is the point at which they can actually sell the power to electric companies and make money. One of the reasons for this is that the concepts and the materials in the power plant are fairly mature. Mirrors and sun-tracking software are pretty simple and are one of the things that eSolar has improved upon a lot. While the steam turbines used in this technology are totally mature and really don't have any areas for improvement at all because they're roughly the same turbines that have been used forever in fossil fuel power plants.

But there are ares for eSolar to improve, to get closer to grid parity, and one of those is to make their plants bigger and their boilers hotter so that they can get more efficiency. And another is to just generally scale up thus driving down the costs of all the materials in the projects.

However because the technology is more mature that means that there's less area for improvement than there would be for other younger technologies in solar power. Of course, those right now are colossally more expensive than what eSolar is doing so it's pretty obvious that we should start covering every available square inch with these concentrating solar power technologies.

Already data is showing that in certain areas these can be cheaper than natural gas power plants not to mention that they never need fuel and are 100% emissions free.

This is Hank Green for EcoGeek, brains for the Earth.