Israel’s power grid will receive a boost this week, as 11 new solar power plants go online in the Negev and Arava.
On Monday evening, Arava Power Company – the firm responsible for Israel’s first medium-sized solar field at Kibbutz Ketura – will be launching six such new projects, throughout the Negev and Arava. The following day, EDF Energies Nouvelles (EDFEN), a subsidiary of Electricite de France, will be launching its first five solar fields.
Arava Power’s new fields will generate a total of approximately 36 megawatts worth of electricity, while those of EDF-EN will produce 32 megawatts.
“It’s a wonderful accomplishment for Arava Power Company and the State of Israel that multiple medium-sized fields are being launched simultaneously,” Arava Power co-founder and executive vice-chairman David Rosenblatt told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “It shows that Israel is at the start of beginning to bring scale to its solar program.”
While Arava’s launch ceremony will be held in the northern Negev’s Kibbutz Shoval, its six new projects are spread throughout the region. One of the six, however, is the 6.4-megawatt Shoval Sun.
At a cost of NIS 88.9m., the field will offset the production of approximately 162,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide over the next 20 years, with emission reductions equivalent to the planting of 233,000 trees, according to the company.
Maslul Sun, located at Moshav Maslul in the northwestern Negev, is the largest of the new Arava Power fields at 8.9 megawatts and costs NIS 123.6m. Three of the other projects include a NIS 96.5m., 6.8-megawatt site at Kibbutz Yotvata; a NIS 88.5, 6.4-megawatt facility at Kibbutz Grofit and a NIS 105m., 7-megawatt site at Kibbutz Elifaz – all in the Arava.
The five aforementioned fields included equity investments from Arava Power, the NOY fund, and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael- Jewish National Fund. Arava Power was responsible for development of these sites, while Siemens Israel oversaw engineering procurement construction. Maslul Sun received 80% of its funding in loans from Bank Hapoalim, Migdal insurance, and Amitim pension company.
A sixth, smaller project developed by Arava Power is the 0.45-megawatt Erez Rooftops venture, which is already producing electricity for the grid. All engineering procurement construction for Erez occurred through the firm NEXTCOM.
Arava Power Company launched the country’s first medium-sized solar field, the 4.95-megawatt Ketura Sun, in June 2011, after being founded in 2006 by Rosenblatt, Kibbutz Ketura resident Ed Hofland, and American-Israeli solar entrepreneur Yosef Abramowitz.
“It’s really a compliment to the talent in Israel and mission-based business that Arava Power is, that we were able to gather so many talented people to reimagine israel’s solar energy policy,” Rosenblatt said.
For its part, EDF-EN will be launching its five new fields on Tuesday, all in the Negev Desert, and amounting to an approximately NIS 330m. investment in total. The largest of the facilities is an 8.5-megawatt field in Kibbutz Gvulot, located in the northwestern Negev in Eshkol Regional Council.
The other four fields include a 7.8-megawatt site at Kibbutz Mishmar HaNegev, a 6.4-megawatt site at Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, a 6-megawatt site at Kibbutz Nahal Oz and a 3.2-megawatt site at Kibbutz Lahav.
In addition to these five fields, which are being connected to the grid this week, EDF-EN also has four other completely constructed facilities that will soon be connected as well, the company said.
These include an 8.8-megawatt site at Kibbutz Bror Hayil, a 10.8-megawatt site at Kibbutz Samar, a 10-megawatt site at Moshav Talmei Eliyahu and a 7-megawatt site at Mitzpe Ramon.
“We believe there is real intrinsic potential for solar energy in Israel,” Ayalon Alain Vaniche, CEO of EDF-EN Israel, told the Post on Monday.
In addition to its solar activities, EDF-EN will over the next year also be focusing its on developing wind energy fort northern Israel. EDF-EN, 85% owned by the French government, first entered Israel in 2009.
While Arava Power and EDF-EN are launching their many solar fields one day after the other, the two companies actually have a long history of working together.
Arava Power remains an investor in three of the EDF-EN fields, including two that will be launched on Tuesday and one of the future sites: Mishmar HaNegev, Kerem Shalom, and Bror Hayil. While Arava now only has a 5% stake in these projects, the company was the initial developer of these projects prior to EDF-EN purchase.
EDF-EN is also a partner in the engineering work and financing of Arava Power’s future 40-megawatt solar field at Kibbutz Ketura, which is in the race to become the country’s first large-scale solar field. The partners have received NIS 250m., or 80% of the project’s total cost, from Bank HaPoalim.
The large field will be ready for grid connection by the end of 2014 or the beginning of 2015, Rosenblatt said.
While Rosenblatt stressed that Monday will be “a day of celebration” for Arava Power, there is still much work that needs to be done in Israel’s solar industry, particularly in terms of establishing additional quotas and regulations.
“We would like that scale to grow rapidly for the benefit of Israel and the economic development of the country that it represents,” he said. “We would hope that Israel makes it easier and faster to do the next five, six fields.”
Arava Power, he explained, has a pipeline of projects that extend into double- digits, but these projects are stuck due to lack of government regulation.
Vaniche expressed similar sentiments, adding that EDF-EN too has a series of projects that are simply “waiting for a decision from the regulator.”
“We are all in the same situation, where we have projects in the waiting list for which we have invested hundreds of thousands of shekels,” Vaniche said.
While the Interministerial Committee for Renewable Energy in February approved the transfer of around 300 megawatts worth of renewable energy quotas from other sources to the photovoltaic industry, Rosenblatt said that it is still unclear as to when a decision will occur as to how these new megawatts will be allocated.
“For an industry that has been waiting more than two years at this point for the right to build new fields, it’s a very long time,” he said.
Emphasizing how Israel’s strong sunlight “perfectly matches” the country’s additional energy needs, Vaniche added, “I am just sorry as a citizen that the existing potential and the existing projects are not used as quickly as possible.”