June 15, 2003

Israel’s first solar power station will supply five percent of the country’s energy needs.

The world’s largest solar power station is being planned in the Negev. The station, which would be the first ever built in Israel, will be based on technologies developed in cooperation with the Ben-Gurion University’s National Solar Energy Center, part of the Blaustein Institute for Desert Research in Sde Boker.

“Israel is prominent on the world stage for developing solar technology, but until now, we haven’t really harnessed that knowledge for our own needs,” Prof. David Faiman, director of the Solar Energy Center told ISRAEL21c.

American environmentalists are excited about the prospect of such a project coming into being.

“There is intense interest in this sort of ‘concentrated solar’ technology in parts of the United States, like our desert Southwest, that have similar conditions to the Negev,” said Seth Kaplan, senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, who advocates for development of alternative and renewable energy sources. “This project could plot a course for those areas to become major sources of clean energy, allowing them to play a part in efforts to reduce the dangerous emissions from fossil fuel power plants. The U.S. is increasingly looking to Israel for hi-tech innovations. This project shows that this trend extends to rapidly expanding field of alternative energy production.”

The station has been approved in principle by the government, and a tentative 1,000 acre site has been selected, but has not yet been budgeted. The plant is planned initially to supply 100 megawatts of power and grow to 500 megawatts, about 5 percent of the country’s current generating capacity. When construction is finished in 2012, it should employ some 100 people.

The primary obstacle in the use of solar power in Israel until now has been price. Producing electricity with solar energy now costs 1.5 times more than using coal or petrochemicals. This obstacle has proved difficult to overcome, even though the current alternatives to solar energy pollute the environment and encourage dependence on Arab oil.

“Thus it won’t be easy to carry out the project, even though the government decided last November that 2% of energy must be renewable by 2007, with an additional 1% every three years,” said Aharon Zohar, an Interior Ministry representative on the 20-member committee responsible for organizing the project.

According to Faiman, the world’s current two largest solar power stations, which were constructed by a now-defunct Jerusalem company, Luz, have generating capacities of 80 mw. each, enough power to meet the needs of 160,000 people.

During its few years of existence, Luz constructed nine solar power plants in California. The first had a mere 15 mw. capacity, the next six plants were 30 mw. each, and finally two 80 mw. plants. All of the plants are still fully operational and, thanks to the recent technological advancements, will soon be producing more power.

Luz’s patents were inherited and improved upon by the Solel Company of Beit Shemesh. In a two-and-a-half-year joint research project between Solel and the National Center for Solar Energy, co-funded by the National Infrastructure Ministry and the U.S.-based Belfer Foundation, new advances have been made in solar technologies.

“If a Solel plant is built in Israel and is shown to be successful, it will make the company a strong competitor on the world scene, and international projects could be financed in the Third World by the World Bank,” Faiman told The Jerusalem Post.

The principal aim of the project was to complete research into and test the viability of the Direct Steam Generation (DSG) Loop that Luz had left in the development stage when it went bankrupt. According to Luz’s calculations, replacing the original oil-heating loop with one that employs DSG technologies within the solar collectors themselves would result in a 15% increase in power production. Part of the joint project called for testing various new vacuum tube types that have been developed to act as replacements for broken tubes in the aging California plants.

At the Blaustein Center, the oil-heating loop that Luz handed down was used to quantify the new tubes’ performance, Faiman said. Not surprisingly, it turned out that all of Solel’s new tubes were improvements on the originals. To the scientists’ astonishment, one of the new types produced a 20% to 25% improvement. This will enable the plants in California to be upgraded and clearly establishes Israeli solar technology as unequalled, Faiman said.

“Now that the government has committed itself to building a solar energy plant, Solel can verifiably say that local solar technologies are the most advanced in the world with a proven record of high efficiency, high reliability, cleanliness, and low system cost,” he added. He said that solar energy plants in the Negev could theoretically produce all the country’s power on 225 square kilometers of suitable land.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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