Arrow missile inventor looks to energize the solar market

Landau dedicates first blue-and-white concentrated photovoltaic system, which tracks the sun's path across the sky.

By EHUD ZION WALDOKS
October 17, 2010 01:37
MST Solar Panels

Solar panels MTS 311. (photo credit: EHUD ZION WALDOKS)

 
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National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau (Israel Beiteinu) dedicated the first Israeli concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) system to be hooked up to the national grid in Arad on Thursday.

The system was designed by the MST solar energy company, which was founded by Dov Raviv – the father of the Arrow missile system.

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Raviv turned his eye toward renewable energy in 2002 by forming Rehovot-based MST. Over the last eight years, he and his team developed a CPV system built on a tracker – a platform that tracks the sun’s path across the sky. The 50KW system has an efficiency rate of 24.5 percent in field conditions, he said during Thursday’s ceremony – higher than regular photovoltaic silicon solar panels.

CPV uses lenses and mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays and get higher efficiency from the panels.

Landau said at the dedication ceremony, “We want Israeli technologies to obtain serious market share in Israel and around the world. The National Infrastructures Ministry has been acting and will continue to act to encourage Israeli green technologies. Our intent was clear as laid out in the national energy plan last February [at the Eilat-Eilot International Renewable Energy Conference],” he told the attendees.

“The Jewish mind knows how to invent wonderful ways of doing things. This is an important resource and we must recognize how to use it. We will explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned to promote Israeli technologies and – no less important – Israeli manpower, wherever we can,” Landau said.

Arad Mayor Tali Ploskov said she hoped the MST system would be the first of many solar technologies to flock to her city.

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Raviv used the opportunity to urge the government to take specific steps to encourage a domestic solar energy industry.

“The first challenge is the challenge of the technology’s bankability. This term refers to the willingness of the banks and other financial bodies to finance the fields of solar energy based on new technologies. Financial bodies usually demand the presentation of a performance history spanning a number of years, in order to reduce the uncertainty and risks involved in providing funding. Of course, new technology does not have the performance history required, creating the old story of the chicken-and-egg situation. To create a performance history, it is necessary to set up a solar field of at least 1MW. Such a field requires millions of dollars in funding, and in order to receive this funding a performance history is required,” Raviv said.

“What we have here is essentially a market-failure mechanism. Market failure does not allow new technologies to mature, and where there is a market failure the state needs to intervene and provide the bridge that allows us to cross this ‘Valley of Death,’” he said.

Israel has many tools to help cure this “market-failure syndrome,” and it has done so in the past in other fields, he added. Raviv had some suggestions for how the state could do this.

One “possibility is the creation of a climate that supports Israeli technology by the state, such as granting state guarantees to solar fields based on Israeli technology and local production. This mechanism currently exists, and the state is presently giving guarantees to other industries and business. State guarantees for Israeli technology would overcome the bankability obstacle and would enable the establishment of solar power stations with banks’ credit, as is accepted today in this industry. Such support is necessary for a limited period and with limited scope, until the banks gain confidence in the technology."

“An additional direction through which the state could deal with the market failure presented above is the encouragement of investing a small part of the vast funds available in pension funds and inject funds into the Israeli solar industry. The beauty of this idea is that everyone would benefit from such an act,” Raviv said.

“The public – through its savings in pension funds, it would gain the opportunity to benefit from high yields from the preferential tariff that the state pays for solar electricity, and it would therefore receive bigger pensions."

“The state – by promoting solar industry as a catalyst for growth, will generate employment and advance Israeli technology. And all of that without any budgetary expenditure,” he argued.

Raviv went on to describe the MST system, which borrowed a concept primarily used in outer space.

“It is based on the high concentration of the sun’s energy (500 times) by a Fresnel lens that projects the light on a small solar cell that is one centimeter square in size. The solar cell is not a regular silicon cell, but is composed of several layers based on gallium arsenide layers grown on a germanium substrate. This technology was originally developed to produce energy for satellites in space."

“The space version of the cell was converted into a terrestrial version that we use in our CPV system. The system accurately tracks the sun, from sunrise to sunset. The tracker was developed and is produced by MST,” Raviv said.

MST plans to set up production facilities in Israel this year, he added.

He also noted that a CPV system required less land than a regular PV system and that, because MST’s trackers were built on pillars two meters above the ground, the land could be used for something else as well.

Just to build and install the single tracker required 280 Israeli subcontractors and suppliers, Raviv said, which showed how it would create jobs.

“We have integrated additional Israeli technology within the system, such as an inverter system and a sophisticated energy harvester from the Israeli Solar Edge company. Solar Edge also has a production plant in Israel, in Migdal Ha’emek. To produce and set up the device in front of you, additional Israeli companies were involved, such as PLH, which is located here in vicinity of this site, which produced the pillar and the platform, the Lotem Company in Ashdod, which provided equipment for the modules and frames, the MER company, which set up the installation, and many other subcontractors and suppliers.”

Raviv concluded by pointing to the Italian market as a potentially lucrative one for CPV and added that there were few mature CPV systems in the world, and MST was one of them.

MST is a member of iConsortium, which offers a one-stop shop for green and security building needs.

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