Sierra SunTower

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Sierra SunTower
Sierra SunTower Power Plant.jpg
The Sierra SunTower power plant in Lancaster, California.
CountryUnited States
LocationMojave Desert, California
Coordinates34°43′53″N 118°08′19″W / 34.73139°N 118.13861°W / 34.73139; -118.13861Coordinates: 34°43′53″N 118°08′19″W / 34.73139°N 118.13861°W / 34.73139; -118.13861
Construction began2009
Commission date2010
Solar farm
CSP technologySolar power tower
Site area20 acres (0 km2)
Power generation
Nameplate capacity5 MW
Annual net output540 MWh

Sierra SunTower was a 5 MW commercial concentrating solar power (CSP) plant built and operated by eSolar. The plant is located in Lancaster, California. As of mid-August, 2018, the two towers that were the center of the facility are no longer standing. The plant, however, is still present.

Project overview[edit]

The Sierra SunTower facility was based on power tower CSP technology. The plant featured an array of heliostats which reflected solar radiation to a tower-mounted thermal receiver. The concentrated solar energy boiled water in the receiver to produce steam. The steam was piped to a turbine generator which converted the energy to electricity. The steam coming out of the turbine was condensed and pressurized back into the receiver.

In the summer of 2009, eSolar unveiled the 5 MW Sierra SunTower plant, a commercial facility in Lancaster, California, to demonstrate the efficacy of this CSP technology. Sierra SunTower was connected to the Southern California Edison (SCE) grid and, in spring 2010, it was the only commercial CSP tower facility in North America.

The project site occupied approximately 8 hectares (20 acres) in an arid valley in the southwestern corner of the Mojave Desert at 35° north latitude, on private farm land.[1]

Sierra SunTower included two modules. 24,000 heliostats, divided between four sub-fields, track the sun and focus its energy onto two tower-mounted receivers. The focused heat converts feedwater piped to the receivers into superheated steam that drives a reconditioned 1947 GE turbine generator to produce electricity. The steam passes through a steam condenser, reverts to water through cooling, and the process repeats.

The Sierra SunTower power plant

During the 12 months of construction, Sierra SunTower created over 300 temporary jobs. During operation, the site employed 21 permanent employees.

At the plant’s official unveiling, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the eSolar solution, “...proving that California’s energy and environmental leadership are advancing carbon-free, cost-effective energy that can be used around the world.”[2]

Sierra SunTower was certified by the California Energy Commission as a renewable energy facility. Power from the facility is sold under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with SCE, with a projected maximum output sufficient to power approximately 4,000 homes.

The 5 MW output from Sierra SunTower reduces CO2 emissions by 7,000 tons per year, an amount equivalent to planting 5,265 acres (21.31 km2) of trees, removing 1,368 automobiles from the road, or saving 650,000 gallons of gasoline.

Sierra SunTower was designed to validate eSolar's technology at full scale, effectively eliminating scaleup risks, and to serve as a model from which future plants of this type would be built.[3] However, in 2015, the Sierra SunTower was shut down for commercial operation, as it was deemed to be too costly to operate except on the sunniest of days. Thus, it served to show the real-world problems, and unpredictable nature, of concentrated solar power.[4]

External images
in 2010
in 2010
in 2011
Entrance in 2011
in 2012


In December 2009, editors of Power Engineering magazine selected Sierra SunTower as the winner of the “Best Renewable Project”. Each year, Power Engineering magazine recognizes the world's best energy projects. The award distinguishes Sierra as an exceptional power generation project toward meeting growing global demand.[5]

In February 2010, Sierra SunTower won Renewable Energy World’s “Renewable Project of the Year” award. The award recognizes eSolar's achievements in the clean energy industry by naming Sierra SunTower an exceptional breakthrough in the commercialization of solar thermal technology.[6]

Performance data from US Treasury Dept.[edit]

According to US Treasury Department - Performance Report and Certification Form, the eSolar Sierra SunTower generated 539 MWh (MegaWatt-hour) of electricity from August 1, 2010, to July 31, 2011. A total of 539 MWh of gross electrical energy has been generated at Sierra during the period Aug 1, 2010 and July 31, 2011. This is approximately 12.6% of the expected power generation of the initial estimate of 4270 MWh.


Generation (MW·h) of Sierra SunTower Solar Gen Station [7]
Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Total
2010 1 13 31 47 66 75 73 65 53 24 20 8 476
2011 0 12 17 27 34 43 37 38 26 21 7 7 270
2012 2 23 57 82 113 122 105 83 78 61 31 23 780
2013 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 94 94
2014 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 1,620

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mernit, Judith Lewis. A solar plant a tortoise could love High Country News, 10 August 2009. Accessed: 9 January 2011.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-08-11. Retrieved 2010-03-22.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Fehrenbacher, Katie (5 August 2009). "Live: eSolar Flips the Switch on First Solar Power Tower in U.S."
  4. ^ "eSolar Sierra SunTower: a History of Concentrating Solar Power Underperformance - GUNTHER Portfolio".
  5. ^ "2009 Projects of the Year".
  6. ^ "Excellence in Renewable Energy Award Winners Announced".
  7. ^ "Sierra SunTower Solar Gen Station, Monthly". Electricity Data Browser. Energy Information Administration. Retrieved March 8, 2017.

External links[edit]