California utility PG&E today announced deals with San Francisco solar startups GreenVolts and Cleantech America to build photovoltaic solar power plants. The projects are relatively small-scale – 2 megawatts for GreenVolts and 5-megawatts for Cleantech America – but represent a move by a major utility to use solar power stations close to urban areas to supply green energy during peak demand. To date, utilities like Southern California Edison (EIX) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SRE) have tended to contract for massive megawatt solar thermal power plants to be constructed in the Mojave Desert far from the cities they will supply. That often means billion-dollar transmission lines must be built or upgraded.
GreenVolts, which was featured in Green Wombat’s Big Solar story in the June issue of Business 2.0, will build its power plant on just eight acres in Tracy, a farm town turned exurb about 60 miles east of San Francisco. The company has developed a high concentration photovoltaic technology that features microdishes that track the sun and focus its rays on small but highly efficient solar cells. Rotating platforms hold 176 of the dishes (image above). The Tracy plant goes online in 2009. Earlier this month, GreenVolts announced a deal to build a prototype power plant for Avista (AVA), a Spokane, Washington-based utility.
The second deal is for a 5-megawatt plant to be built by Cleantech America on 40 acres near a PG&E (PCG) substation in the Central Valley city of Fresno. The power plant is set to begin operating in 2009. The company has apparently been operating under the radar – or at least Green Wombat’s radar, despite the fact that its offices are located across California Street from Business 2.0. Hello! Cleantech America’s site is sketchy on the details of it technology, describing a mix of "current and new concentrator PV solar technologies." Green Wombat is crashing on a magazine deadline today but will report further on the company in the coming week. CEO Bill Barnes certainly has an interesting resume: according to the Cleantech America site, he’s a former Time magazine editor who co-founded children’s clothing company Gymboree and "has participated in the start-up of successful companies in the energy and technology industry."