Santa Monica’s SolarReserve has signed a memorandum of understanding with Shenhua Group Corp. of Beijing to build solar thermal plants in China that generate up 1,000 megawatts of power. The deal is reportedly worth $2.31 billion.

To put that into context, SolarReserve’s first solar power project, a 110-megawatt plant outside Tonopah, Nev., powers 75,000 homes in that state as part of a 25-year deal to sell energy to utility NV Energy.

The agreement with Shenhua is SolarReserve’s largest to date. As part of the agreement, Shenhua Group, a state-owned coal mining and power plant company, would build, operate, and fund the solar thermal plants. SolarReserve would supply the technology.

SolarReserve’s power plants use an array of mirrors to focus light from the sun into a central tower filled with heat-conducting molten salt. That heated molten salt is stored in tanks and used to steam-generate electricity when the power grid demands it.

“Our 1,000-megawatt partnership with Shenhua is at a scale that will lead to substantially lower costs while contributing clean and renewable energy to China’s growing power needs,” Kevin Smith, SolarReserve’s chief executive, said in a statement. “This is just part of China’s target to build 10,000 megawatts of (concentrated solar power plants) over the next five years.”

SolarReserve’s Nevada facility – known as Crescent Dunes – cost $900 million to build, and it was financed partly by a Department of Energy loan. The company is also developing a 100-megawatt plant in South Africa and a 260-megawatt plant in Chile.

Technology reporter Garrett Reim can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @garrettreim for the latest in L.A. tech news.

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