Historically dependent on fossil fuels, Israel’s past efforts to adopt alternatives have been hindered largely by incongruent policy and bureaucratic complications. While solar water heaters are common, the sunny nation has yet to harness the energy source for utility-scale use. But it seems the new year has brought with it new prospects and promising projects.
In what appears to be a recent theme, countries around the globe continue to take impactful strides to adopt large-scale energy projects, regularly surpassing the records and feats of the past. Israel, a relative newcomer to the renewable energy scene, heralds its commitment to the trend by announcing its plans to build what will be the tallest concentrated solar thermal plant.
At 820 feet (250 m) high, the Ashalim solar tower will be the centerpiece in an array covering 740 acres of the Negev desert. The steel tower surpasses Paris’ Montparnasse Tower, London’s Gherkin, and even the former largest solar tower, found in California’s Mojave Desert (450 ft, or 137 m).
The site will use 55,000 heliostat mirrors that pivot to optimize reflectance of the sun’s rays throughout the day. The rays are refracted to a boiler found at the top of the tower; the concentrated heat— reaching 1112 degrees Fahrenheit (600* C)— produces steam, which then generates electricity at the base of the tower.
According to the Green Energy Association of Israel head Eitan Parkas, Israel could effectively satisfy its electricity needs using only solar energy and four percent of the Negev desert.
In its current iteration— a single towered plant— the project will produce 121 MW, enough for a city of 110,000 households or 1.6% of national demand. The station is set to be completed in 2018.
While recent offshore gas explorations have been fruitful for the Middle Eastern nation, the project represents a continuation of its pursuit to secure independence in an increasingly charged region of the world.
Though critics have challenged the associated the price, those familiar with the project see it a steep initial cost with a promise for a steady return on investment.
The $570 million construction will be funded by America’s General Electric and BrightSource Energy, France’s Alstom, and Israel’s Noy private investment fund.
"We do not hide the fact that it is more expensive than traditional electricity production, [but the government agreed to move to] achieve lower costs over time," said Eran Gartner of Megalim, the consortium overseeing the array. "The second solar tower will be slightly less expensive, the third much less expensive, et cetera."