In greentech as in the real world: you get big, you get enemies

The folks at Ausra are getting a higher and higher profile in the realm of solar energy. And with that comes enemies.
Written by Harry Fuller, Contributor

The folks at Ausra are getting a higher and higher profile in the realm of solar energy. And with that comes enemies. Your CEO poses at a big opening with California's high profile governor, and next thing you know: opposition.

The Ausra company headquarters is in Palo Alto. Some of their biggest plans are for California. Ausra builds components in Las Vegas and then fits them together into thermal solar plants. Essentially they use large mirrors to focus solar heat onto liquid in closed tubes. That hot liquid turns turbines which generate electricity. No off-gassing, no emissions, no by-products, no toxics. Here's Ausra's solar thermal plant in Bakersfield that is already operating:

Kimberlina solar plant, Bakersfield. Courtesy of Ausra.

So what's not to like? First, solar thermal plants are utility scale and so use lots of land in sunny places. Often in a desert with a fragile environment. Then you have to get that electricity into the cities like San Diego where it will be consumed. That means huge transmission lines up hill and down the valley. More disruption of the natural environment. Why don't we underground this stuff? Too expensive it is said.

Right now solar produces an insignificant protion of California's electricity. Far less than 1%. The state is still dependent on importing electricity and using fossil fuels despite its numerous dams. Now there are eighty utility-scale solar thermal plants being planned or underway in California. That's caught a lot of attention.

Solar thermal is being heavily promoted as already cheaper than silicon solar panel farms, and huge scale installations pruport to be equal in cost with traditional fossil fuel burning generators.

Here's Ausra's animated diagram of how their generating plants work.

[poll id=47]

Here's the list of their directors and execs. You will note the presence of both Kleiner Perkins' Ray Lane and Vinod Khosla. Ausra raised $60 million this fall despite the financial markets' stomach problems and some of that came from Canada as well as Silicon Valley VCs. Ausra means business. Big business.

Editorial standards