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Turning on the Solar Power Tower

In 2007 launched our Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal initiative and announced a $10 million investment in the early-stage clean power company eSolar, Inc. Yesterday in Southern California, eSolar flipped the switch on what is to be the first solar power tower facility in the U.S. that will enter full commercial operation.

Success here could signal the emergence of a clean energy technology by which we might -- for the first time -- economically harness the sun to produce large quantities of electricity. And we would be harnessing a massive and, for all practical purposes, inexhaustible energy supply.

In many respects eSolar has turned conventional thinking about solar power tower technology on its head in order to drastically reduce the capital and operating cost of solar thermal power plants. Instead of employing a small number of large and expensive specialty mirrors eSolar takes the opposite approach – incorporating thousands of small mirrors that can be made cheaply in massive quantities. And instead of having to reinforce large mirrors to stand up to high winds, eSolar’s small mirrors have a low profile, reducing material costs including steel and concrete for the mounting structures.

Of course this massive number of mirrors requires more sophisticated software so they accurately track the sun leading to high heat output and system efficiency. At Google we’re particularly intrigued with this aspect of the eSolar product -- that is, how the performance of energy technology can be enhanced by information technology. Call it ET meets IT.

The eSolar team has taken a giant step toward cracking the code on solar power tower technology. I’m hopeful that just a few years from now we will see this facility – and many more like it – focusing the sun’s energy to produce a brighter future for our children and the planet they will inherit.

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