French nuclear giant AREVA on Monday said it had acquired 100% of Ausra, a major U.S.-based provider of large-scale concentrated solar power (CSP) plants. The acquisition marks AREVA’s foray into solar power. The company already has major offshore wind and biomass ventures.

With the acquisition, AREVA intends to become “the world leader in the CSP market,” said Anil Srivastava, AREVA’s business group renewables senior executive vice president. AREVA would achieve this by combining Ausra’s “proven” technology and AREVA’s engineering, procurement, and construction skills, he said. Ausra, in turn, will get a worldwide platform for its CSP technology, which uses mirrors to focus sunlight to boil water, generate steam, and turn turbines.

AREVA said that the worldwide market for CSP plants was expected to grow substantially in the next decade, with an average annual growth rate of 20% that should reach an estimated installed capacity of over 20 GW by 2020.

In January, a company executive told POWER that AREVA’s renewable division was looking to capture 25% of the world’s global offshore wind turbine market, and it had similar ambitious goals for an expansion in biomass energy.

The French company recently agreed to sell its lucrative transmission and distribution (T&D) division to Alstom and Schneider Electric for a reported sum of €4.09 billion. Last summer, the nuclear giant put up its T&D business to plug a €12 billion gap and finance investments such as the buyout of Siemens and AREVA NP following the dissolution of that nuclear joint venture, as well as cost overruns on the Finnish EPR Olkiluoto 3 project.

The T&D sector generated €5.06 billion in 2008, or 38% of AREVA’s total revenue, and the division grew 17% in 2008 as compared to 2007.

Ausra, a company founded in 2006, opened a demonstration CSP plant near Bakersfield, Calif.—the first such plant to be built in that state in almost two decades. It also announced that it would build two major solar thermal plants, including one on the Carrizo Plain in San Luis Obispo County, but last year, the company decided to stop developing plants and concentrate on making the equipment for them instead.

The solar acquisition, subject to customary regulatory approval, is expected to close in the next few months.

Sources: POWER, AREVA, Ausra