On Sept 10, Ausra Inc., the developer of utility-scale solar thermal power technology, announced that it has secured more than $40 million in funding from Silicon Valley venture capital firms Khosla Ventures and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers (KPCB).
Ausra's power plants drive steam turbines with sunshine. Locally manufactured solar concentrators made of steel and glass focus sunlight to boil water, generating high-pressure steam that drives conventional turbine generators. New thermal energy storage systems using pressurized water and low cost materials will provide for on-demand generation day and night. Ausra's core technology, the Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector (CLFR) solar steam generation system, was originally conceived in the early 1990s by founder David Mills while at Sydney University. Mills later worked with Graham Morrison to develop the idea between 1995 and 2001.
Austra's innovation is that it uses commodity flat mirrors that sit low to the ground. The refectors concentrate sunlight on water-filled pipes that hang over the mirrors. As the water is heated up to 545 degrees fahrenheit (285 celsius) the resulting steam drives a standard turbine.
"We had been working on a wide range of alternatives and kept finding that simpler, cheaper approaches outperformed higher-temperature, more sophisticated designs," says Ausra Chairman David Mills.
The company claims that:
CLFR technology has significant advantages in cost, scalability and emissions profile.
Utility scale solar technology has traditionally been parabolic trough, but Ausra's less complex flat mirrors are much less costly.
Ausra's innovations in collector design dramatically reduce the cost of solar thermal generation equipment and bring solar power to prices directly competitive with fossil fuel power.
It can generate electricity for 10 cents/kWh now, under 8 cents/kWh in 3 yrs.
Ausra's zero-carbon power plants generate electricity at current market prices for fossil-fired power without the emissions caused by burning fuels. Low-cost thermal energy storage systems now under development by Ausra will allow solar electric power to be generated on demand, day and night.
Ausra's projects will include energy storage using hot water and other low-cost materials. Thermal energy storage puts the storage before the generator—heat is stored, not electric power. Storing heat is simpler, cheaper, and substantially more efficient than storing electric power. Thermal energy storage makes solar a firm, dispatchable resource.
In 2002, Mills and Morrison founded Solar Heat and Power Pty Ltd. in partnership with Ausra CEO Peter Le Lièvre, and SHP built a successful trial 1 megawatt system in 2004 for Macquarie Generation in New South Wales. A following 38 megawatt CLFR solar field is expected to be complete by 2009.
The company currently has a power project in the testing and commissioning phase in Australia, a project breaking ground this year in Portugal and a project in the permitting phase in central California. A significant number of large projects are being negotiated in other locations.
Ausra is developing a generation of plants in the 100-500 MW class.
Ausra is the successor company to Solar Heat & Power from Australia, in business since 2002.
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