Sunrise Powerline to Link Massive Solar Thermal Installation to Coastal Southern California

The California Public Utilities Commission yesterday approved San Diego Gas & Electric’s application to build a project called the Sunrise Powerlink Transmission Project  The significance of that decision, which sounds pretty run-of-the-mill on the surface, is that it gives the final go-ahead to a massive solar thermal installation to be built and operated by Stirling Energy Systems in the interior desert region of Imperial County.  SmallCapWorld has reported on the desert project earlier (see our post of December 5, 2008).

Solar thermal technology, which is unrelated to photovoltaic technology, uses the heat of the sun’s rays, concentrated by large collectors, to be used to drive a piston filled with helium.  The piston in turn generates electricity through an alternator.  The technology was first developed in the 19th century, and is called Sun Catcher by Stirling Energy Systems. 

Rendering of Sun Catcher Array by Stirling Energy Systems

Rendering of Sun Catcher Array by Stirling Energy Systems

The CPUC approval was not without controversy because an earlier proposal for the powerline would have bisected Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (an area of extraordinary natural beauty and the site of the greatest wildflower blooms in the California desert many years).  The route approved goes south of Anza-Borrego and largely coincides with an existing highway.  The approval was not unexpected, though it was (and is) opposed by some.  It is one of the first such projects to be entirely devoted to renewable energy.  It was supported by Californians for Renewable Energy (, among others. 

At completion, the site will have 36,000 solar dish concentrators generating 900 MW of power for San Diego and Chula Vista.

Stirling Energy Solar Concentrators

Stirling Energy Solar Concentrators

See also Amy Westervelt’s article in Earth2Tech (


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