California’s first solar thermal plant in 20 years recently launched in Bakersfield, helping to usher the golden state into a new era of renewable energy. Designed by Ausra, the Kimberlina solar thermal plant will utilize 1,000-foot long mirrors to convert the sun’s rays into energy. The new plant is the first of it’s kind in North America and was constructed in just seven months.

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Ausra‘s Bakersfield plant is expected to generate 5MW of electricity (enough to power 3,500 homes), and it is an exciting a proof of concept for a much larger 177MW facility set to open in 2010 in San Luis Obispo that will power more than 120,000 homes.

Ausra‘s solar-thermal plants employ a technology called Compact Linear Fresnel Reflectors. The process use mirrors to focus the sun’s heat upon tubes of water, creating steam that is used to drive power turbines to generate electricity. Unlike wind and photovoltaic systems, solar thermal plants are capable of storing heat for times when power is needed, and the steam produced can also used for other applications.

At the plant’s unveiling Governor Schwarzenegger stated: “This next generation solar power plant is further evidence that reliable, renewable and pollution-free technology is here to stay . . . Not only will this large-scale solar facility generate power to help us meet our renewable energy goals, it will also generate new jobs as California continues to pioneer the clean-tech industry.”

+ Ausra