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photo: eSolar

California startup eSolar said on Tuesday that it has licensed its solar power technology for the construction of up to 1 gigawatt of solar farms in India over the next decade.

The deal with Indian conglomerate ACME Group marks India’s first move into large-scale solar power and is the biggest announced foray of a United States solar power plant company overseas. The agreement calls for ACME, based in the northern Indian state of Haryana, to invest $30 million in eSolar, which will also earn fees for each of its 46-megawatt modular solar thermal power plants that are built.

A gigawatt, or 1,000 megawatts, of solar energy produces enough electricity to keep the lights on in about 750,000 energy-hogging U.S. homes. Presumably, many more homes and businesses can be powered by a gigawatt in India, where electricity shortages are common and the country relies on greenhouse-gas emitting diesel generators.

“We’re exclusively selling to ACME in India and they’re exclusively using us,” eSolar CEO Bill Gross told Green Wombat. “We’d like to do something like this in Spain, in Australia and the Middle East.”

It’s the second big deal for Pasadena-based eSolar in a week. Last Monday, the company inked an agreement to license its technology to U.S. coal-fired utility NRG (NRG) for the development of up to 500 megawatts of solar power plants in California and the Southwest for Southern California Edison (EIX) and other utilities. Meanwhile, the financial crisis is forcing the consolidation of the solar industry, with Monday’s dual deals — First Solar (FSLR) acquired the solar power plant assets of Silicon Valley OptiSolar while Spanish solar developer Fotowatio bought financier MMA Renewable Ventures’ solar portfolio.

eSolar claims it can generate electricity at lower prices than natural gas-fired power plants by mass-producing mirrors called heliostats that concentrate sunlight on a water-filled receiver atop a tower to create steam that drives a turbine. The heliostats are much smaller than those made by competitors, use far less steel and can be quickly and cheaply installed in the field because they’re controlled by sophisticated software, according to Gross.

That allows eSolar to pack more mirrors into the solar field to create relatively compact power plants that can be located near urban centers rather than in the desert. ACME, which makes everything from telecommunications equipment and refrigeration systems to fuel cells, will begin construction of the first solar farm later this year.

ACME will hire contractors to build the solar power plants while eSolar will provide the heliostat fields, power towers and software systems. ACME so far has signed power purchase agreements with Indian utilities for 250 megawatts, according to eSolar.

“The eSolar system addresses obstacles that have previously plagued solar installations and presents a viable, cost-effective alternative that can scale quickly to meet India’s growing energy needs,” ACME CEO Manoj Upadhyay said in a statement.

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