24,000 mirrors near Lancaster, Calif., are now tracking every movement of the sun, reflecting that light onto boilers held aloft on two towers that produce 5 megawatts of power (enough to power 4,000 homes) for a fraction of the cost of standard photovoltaic solar panels.

The project by ESolar is the first of its kind in the United States, and though it seems impressive it is really a small-scale "demo" project as far as solar concentrating plants go.

The plant went operational Aug. 5 at noon, firmly establishing ESolar as the leader in the race towards "grid parity" — when solar will meet or beat the cost of coal-fired power.

The company, a subsidiary of Idealab (the same guys who brought you the Aptera) is well-funded by the likes of Google and has already sold contracts to build 465 megawatts in the Southwest.

Whether ESolar will actually reach gird parity in the near future is still a question. That feat will require taller towers and hotter boilers and a truer price on coal that accounts both for the environmental cleanup associated with coal extraction and the removal of coal subsidies by the U.S. government.

Whether ESolar makes it or not (and if you want me to wager I say they will!) today still marks an important day in the solar power revolution, providing a bright glimmer on the dusty horizon of America's energy future.

via: The EcoGeek

Thumbnail tease photo: langalex/Flickr

U.S. gets first solar power tower
Esolar turns on the first concentrating solar tower plant in California.