Solar-power-plant company Ausra has released a paper claiming that solar-thermal electric technology can provide 90 percent of U.S. grid electricity, with enough left over to power a fleet of plug-in electric vehicles. The company estimates that such a changeover would eliminate 40 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions with a land footprint of 9,600 square miles, about the size of Vermont (thanks, Kent).via Wired
The key to the scenario, however, is developing the ability to store energy for 16 hours, thus creating a stable power source through cloudy periods and the night, a feat that has so far eluded engineers.
"If we can do storage," Ausra CEO Bob Fishman said, "We can take on coal."
The paper says Ausra expects to commercialize its energy-storage technology within two years. A prototype of the system will go into a model plant the company plans to finish this summer in Bakersfield, California, the company's founder, David Mills, told Wired.com.
Mills' paper reveals some interesting statistics about the construction cost of solar-thermal technologies: $3,000 per kilowatt of capacity, but estimated to drop to $1,500 per kW over the next "several" years. The New York Times last year quoted GE Energy executives giving construction costs for coal plants at $2,000 to $3,000 per kilowatt.
Ausra says it can generate electricity for 10 cents a kilowatt hour, which is close to the cost of natural gas, and it expects the price to drop even further.