On Monday, Ausra execs called up to confirm and clarify and earlier story we wrote about their layoffs
The solar thermal company confirmed it laid off about 10 percent of its staff, a spokeswoman said Monday. The layoffs occurred in January (laid off employees told us they began in December.) At the same time, she said the company is changing business plans. While it still plans to complete the solar thermal project it has with PG&E, it will now become an equipment supplier rather than a power producer. Since then, the company's been trying to schedule a meeting with us to further explain its change in lifestyle.
In short, it will sell its mirrors, pipes and steam-capture equipment to coal mines and food-processing plants. The shift makes a lot of sense. For one thing, building solar thermal plants takes several years and millions of dollars in capital. You don't need to go through years of BLM meetings to sell equipment to private companies. Second, Ausra has lost out on some of the big deals to Brightsource Energy and others. Thus, it's selling solar steam equipment to people who just need equipment or want to wallow in what might have been.
Ausra already has a contract to deliver equipment to produce solar steam to a coal mine in Australia.
Solar steam has another advantage. The steam, generated by heat collected by its mirrors, is used directly as an energy source. In a solar thermal power plant, it is run through a turbine. Some efficiency is lost. Ergo, the new products will be more efficient at generating power than the old ones.
On the other hand, these projects won't nearly be as big as the Khosla Ventures funded company originally pursued.