By Alexis Madrigal Email 04.21.08 | 6:45 PM
Rising oil prices lift all alt-energy boats.
For proof, look no further than the fat $130 million investment scooped up by eSolar, a company whose basic solar power strategy -- using sunlight-reflecting mirrors to generate steam -- was all but abandoned in the 1980s, and has recently recently caught investors' attention again.
The money, from Google's philanthropic arm, Google.org, and venture capital firms Idealab and Oak Investment Partners, will go towards the construction of eSolar's first functioning solar power plant.
"ESolar's long term is to become a viable replacement for all fossil fuel," said Robert Rogan, a Cal Tech Ph.D. and eSolar's executive vice president for corporate development. "The reason Google invested in us is that they saw the potential of this technology to beat the cost of using coal."
The company's core technology is an implementation of concentrating solar power, which uses mirrors to turn liquid into steam that drives standard electricity-generating turbines. CSP, also sometimes called solar thermal, is considered a promising replacement for fossil fuel power plants, particularly the coal plants that generate more than half of U.S. electricity. It's been around for decades, last seeing popularity in the early 1980s, when oil hit an inflation-adjusted price of $82 per barrel. Higher oil prices make fossil fuel plants more costly, making it easier for alternative technologies to compete. (Oil is currently trading for more than $115 a barrel, its highest level ever.)
Google's green-energy plan goes by the formula-like name RE