By turning a long line of mirrors, the first solar thermal plant in nearly twenty years was launched last week in Bakersfield, California. Unlike solar photovoltaic systems that convert sunlight into electricity, this power system will focus sunlight on tubes that contains water. The light heats the water, creating steam that is used to power turbines.
At full capacity, Kimberlina will generate 5 megawatts of power, enough for about 3,500 homes in Central California. Although this is a small amount of energy compared with 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 agreement in November, 2007 for a solar power plant of 177 megawatts. Once completed, the Carrizo Plains solar plant in Central California will generate enough power for 120,000 homes.
Solar technology is especially well suited for the American Southwest where huge amounts of sunshine make this region rich with solar energy potential. Air conditioners are accountable 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 the total US electricity load (day and night) could be generated in an area that is 92 miles by 92 miles. This is made possible by steam storage, consequently allowing solar plants to operate after the sun has set.