Officials in the Arava on Wednesday inaugurated Israel’s largest photovoltaic field, completing a journey six years in the making.
The system already began providing the country with electricity several days ago.
“In six days, a million-and-a-half kilowatt hours have been uploaded to the national grid,” Arava Power Company CEO Jon Cohen told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
The 40-megawatt Ketura Solar field, which is the second but biggest “large” field to go online in Israel, contains 140,343 panels spread over 54.2 hectares (133.4 acres) in the southern Arava Valley. An oasis of blue straddling a date orchard, the field is the shared product of Arava Power Company and Électricité de France Energies Nouvelles Israel.
The new field is located just across Route 90 from Kibbutz Ketura and the 4.95-megawatt Ketura Sun – the first medium- sized solar field in Israel and also a product of Arava Power.
“It’s been – since January 2009 – a six-and-a-half-year process from kickoff through launch,” Cohen said. “Here we are in July 2015, generating about 250,000 kilowatt hours a day.”
From start to finish, construction – which was carried out by the EGE consortium – took seven months, he explained. Simultaneously, Israel Electric built a substation for the field, and during a slightly longer period, erected the power line to carry electricity from the facility to the national grid, Cohen said.
The field is “at present, the largest solar installation in Israel,” he added.
It is the second large field to go online. The first was the 37.5-megawatt Neot Hovav field, launched by the Energix Group in December 2014.
Soon the 55-megawatt Enlight Renewable Energy Ltd. Haluziot field and the 50-megawatt Zmorot field, of which EDF Energies Nouvelles Israel is a stakeholder, are to begin operations.
Ayalon Vaniche, CEO of EDF Energies Nouvelles Israel, stressed that his company will continue to promote projects in the field of solar energy in the coming years and also expand its activity to wind energy. EDF Energies Nouvelles Israel operates 10 solar facilities in Israel, with a total installed capacity of 110 megawatts, and is celebrating six years of operation in the country. EDF Energies Nouvelles Israel is a subsidiary of EDF Energies Nouvelles S.A., an arm of the French national electric corporation.
The Ketura Solar Project brings Arava Power’s installed capacity to more than 100 megawatts. Arava Power was co-founded in 2006 by Kibbutz Ketura, American-Israeli solar entrepreneur Yosef Abramowitz and New Jersey businessman David Rosenblatt.
Kibbutz Ketura member Ed Hofland is the firm’s chairman, while partner agencies include the Phoenix Insurance Company and the Jewish National Fund.
In addition to the many executives and Israeli officials attending Wednesday night’s launch, Ethiopian Education Minister Shiferaw Shigute came by helicopter with an Ethiopian University delegation to attend the event and to visit the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Their visit was arranged in coordination with the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Gelfand Foundation.
Cohen told the Post that he hopes to see the government expanding its renewable energy program, enabling the development of many more such fields.
“We have numerous additional licenses including large fields that have been collecting dust on the shelves of the Public Utility Authority for years,” he said. “It took the government of Israel years to approve the additional quotas for PV [photovoltaics].”
Today, about 270 megawatts worth of medium-sized photovoltaic fields and 200 megawatts worth of largesized fields have either been built or are under construction, in addition to a big solar-thermal project at Ashalim, about 35 km. south of Beersheba.
The government approved another 340-megawatt quota to be split between medium- and largesized fields in October 2013, but has yet to publish the necessary accompanying regulations despite a January 2015 deadline, Cohen said.
“We are now in August 2015 and nothing has happened,” he said.
“This is causing real damage to an already fairly wounded industry.
Nearly all international entities, excluding one, have already moved on to greener pastures, and if something doesn’t happen and soon, there are not going to be many players left.”
For the government to achieve its goal of supplying 10 percent of the country’s electricity through renewable energy by 2020, an additional 800-1,000 megawatts worth of photovoltaic fields are required, Cohen argued.
Both Cohen and Vaniche pointed out that in light of the United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in December, Israel must set goals to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and increase renewables in doing so.
Recently, the Environmental Protection Ministry recommended that Israel decrease its emissions by 30 percent by 2030. To accomplish this, yet another sizable photovoltaic quota increase will be crucial, Cohen said.
Cohen expressed excitement about the field’s launch but also emphasized the urgent need to expedite the sector’s development.
“There is of course a sensation of success and satisfaction on this celebratory day, which is ever clouded by the fact that we have developed numerous other medium and large fields that have been advanced to the stage of eligibility of tariff permit and have been sitting collecting dust for years,” he said.
“What the industry needs to today, as ever, is decisions, clarity, action,” Cohen added. “Today, solar energy no longer requires any form of subsidy and is the natural path, with a substantial contribution to the national economy.”