Home / Israel / Renewable energy in the Negev: Israel's multimillion-dollar solar energy initiative

Renewable energy in the Negev: Israel's multimillion-dollar solar energy initiative


When Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, expressed his vision more than 60 years ago of "making the desert bloom," he may not have expected a multimillion-dollar initiative combining three massive solar power plants, the the tallest solar tower in the world and a sewage treatment plant, all located near a small Israeli community of approximately 500 people in the Negev desert.

The ambitious projects were launched in late 2014, following the Israeli government's goal of having renewable energy contribute to 10 percent of electricity generation by 2020. And almost all are about to be completed.

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Two of the projects are located side by side in a solar complex called Ashalim , which bears the name of the Israeli city adjacent to the sites, about 25 miles (about 40 kilometers) south of Beersheba on the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council. The projects propose different technologies and are managed by separate consortiums.

The first is a massive $ 1.1 billion thermoelectric solar power plant, of 121 MW spread over 988 acres (approximately 4 square kilometers) of land called Negev Energy. It is composed of 28,000 tons of steel and about 500,000 parabolic mirrors that collect light to convert it into energy. The plant plans to reduce approximately 245,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year – the equivalent of eliminating 50,000 vehicles from the highway – and provide clean energy only from renewable energy to 60,000 homes in Israel by 2020.

  The tower 250 meters at the Megalim Solar Power plant. Photo through the Albatros photo agency

The 250 meter tower at the Megalim solar power plant. Photo through the Albatross photo agency

The second project is a smaller plant on 741 acres (almost 3 square kilometers) built with concentrated solar energy, which includes a huge 250 meter solar tower, the largest in the world and playfully called the "power tower". Called Megalim Solar Power, and with an estimated cost of $ 800 million, it includes a solar field with more than 50,000 software-controlled heliostat mirrors that concentrate sunlight on a solar receiver steam generator.

Nearby, the third project is a 35 MW solar plant based on photovoltaic or photovoltaic energy, that is, the use of solar cells to generate electricity. The initiative came with an initial investment of about $ 100 million and is called the Ashalim SUN project.

The fourth initiative, the Ramat Hanegev cogeneration wastewater and demineralization plant, is part of a government plan to support solar installations that also includes strengthening the infrastructure surrounding the complexes.

Technology and investment

Negev Energy CEO Didi Paz tells NoCamels that the plant uses innovative technology that changes the rules of the game.

Like Silicon Valley in California, we are the Israel Solar Valley, "Paz tells NoCamels.

Based on parabolic technology, technology that uses a solar thermal collector to gather energy, the Negev Energy plant takes advantage of a of the largest molten salts storage systems in the world, which means that energy is not only collected, but also stored, even on a cloudy day or after sunset, this innovative technology provides the ability to store an additional four and a half hours of full-capacity energy every day, adding up to a total of 18 hours of daily operation, Paz explains.

  Aerial view of the Negev Energy project Courtesy of Negev Energy

An aerial view of the project Negev Energy Courtesy of Negev Energy

"Negev Energy is unique as this project introduces energy storage to Israel," Paz tells NoCamels. "This is the first time that Israeli technology can store energy, and adds to an integral part of the solar energy process, "he says.

The Negev Energy project is a 50 percent subsidiary of the Israeli group Shikun & Binui. employer. The other two owners are Noy Fund and TSK, a Spanish company specializing in turnkey projects for power generation plants. The president of Negev Energy, Pinchas (Pini) Cohen, also serves as president of the Noy Fund, and previously served as president and CEO of Africa Israel, an international investment and holding group, as well as president of some of the real estate investments leaders and important companies in Israel.

The Noy Fund is also part of the consortium that won the tender for the Megalim Solar Power plant. The other two members are the California-based power corporation BrightSource and GE Renewable Energy, a subsidiary of General Electric.

Megalim says that the key to its technology "is the design of next-generation solar field, optimization software and a control system that allows the creation of high-pressure, high-temperature steam" that is then used to generate power electric Megalim says its goal is to generate "renewable electricity equivalent to the needs of around 120,000 homes" in Israel.

  The Megalim Solar Power plant and the tower in the Negev. Photo of the Albatross photo agency

The Megalim Solar Power plant and the tower in the Negev. The executive director of Megalim Solar Power, Eran Gartner, told the Associated Press last year that the project "is the most important element in Israel's commitment to reducing CO2 and renewable energy."

Megalim is inspired by the model the largest concentrated solar tower project in the world, the Ivanpah Solar Power Generation System, a 390 MW plant in California, and is studying an expansion of its project that would include a second tower and a molten salt storage system, similar to the one built by Negev Energy, according to a presentation seen by NoCamels.

Both Megalim and Negev Energy were developed using the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model, where after years of construction and another 25 years of successful operation, the project will then be transferred to the state.

The advantages and disadvantages

Along with the ecological approach of renewable energy and solar energy, projects have two other important elements: employment and tourism.

With thousands of construction and maintenance employees, many from the Bedouin community of areas in southern Israel, the initiatives contribute greatly to local employment.

The project is also predicted to improve regional development by promoting environmental planning and promoting tourism with its only observation point overlooking the fields of mirrors with a backdrop of the desert, which will be accessible in summer.

"The tourists will be able to enjoy the enormous view, seeing it from the platform of the viewpoint", says Paz.

  The Negev Energy plant. Courtesy of Negev Energy

The Negev Energy plant. Courtesy of Negev Energy

The Regional Council of Ramat Hanegev has said that it is preparing the ground for tourist curiosity and is installing "panoramic viewpoints and accommodation in the region for visiting delegations and travel groups".

But if the increase in employment and the generation of tourist attraction is the positive side, the cloud is the effect on the residents of the city of Ashalim and the surrounding areas. According to Paz, to make life easier for them, the Negev Energy project has kept them updated on progress and is finally providing a better infrastructure for all.

Paz says that despite the natural resources consumed by the plants, they comply with advanced international environmental standards and aim for sustainability through the use of water from the desalination plant and the recycling of the thermal oil produced by the mirrors. .

Israel is not always known as a leader in renewable energy, but with these projects and futures, it may well be on the way to becoming a powerhouse.

Michael Noonan contributed to this report.

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