GE invests in ESolar of Burbank to combine natural gas plants with solar

2011-6-7

In a  deal short on details but blatant in intent, General Electric Co. continued to tear itself a hefty chunk of the renewable energy industry by buying a minority stake in a California solar company.

Already the largest supplier of wind turbines in the U.S. and readying to build the nation’s largest solar photovoltaic panel production facility, the giant conglomerate snapped up an undisclosed portion of Burbank’s ESolar.

GE plans to combine the technology with its natural gas turbines to develop efficient hybrid power plants that offer a stable power source regardless of weather.

During sunny days, such a facility could rely on a field thousands of mirrors –- known as heliostats -- that directs the sun’s heat to a receiver atop a tower to create steam. At night or during storms, electricity would come from the gas-powered steam generator.

A union between the two technologies will increase the fuel efficiency of GE’s FlexEfficiency 50 gas turbine to 70% from 60%, the company said.

GE nabbed an exclusive license to sell ESolar’s solar thermal technology as a package deal with natural gas plants. ESolar –- launched by Idealab founder Bill Gross -- has long-term licensing agreements for its standalone solar technology with NRG Energy and other companies around the world.

The transaction is expected to close within a month. Turkish power plant builder MetCap Energy Investments is joining GE in its ESolar stake. The companies said they would not disclose financial terms.

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