Generating Solar Power in the Arava

The spring has arrived to Arava Valley; temperatures have risen above 30 degrees.  The dry desert wind blows in dry riverbeds and the hot sun heats the air.  The sun is the primary source of energy for the Earth’s climate system and therefore has enormous potential for commercial energy production.  In Israel, this advantage has been recognized; solar technology, including its various applications, has been well researched.  Constructing solar fields contribute to sustainable development, while diversifying energy production and increasing the energy security are important criteria.  Solar power contributes to Israel’s energy independence.
Row of solar panels in Yotvata field. Photo: Samuel WillnerRow of solar panels in Yotvata field. Photo: Samuel Willner
Israel’s electricity is currently generated almost exclusively by thermal power plants.  In Israel, there are already a few companies which either operate solar power stations or are in the process of planning or constructing them.  The first company to launch a commercial solar field in Israel was the Arava Power Company in 2011.  The first field was constructed on the lands of Kibbutz Ketura.  Since the launch of its first solar power station, Arava Power has started to construct several new sites.  Two of these construction sites are located between the kibbutzim Grofit and Yotvata, close to the border of Israel and Jordan.  I visited these two sites to understand more about how such solar fields are built. 
The solar fields in the Arava Valley are relatively small compared to the world’s biggest solar power stations in the United States which are multiple times greater.  However, even the smaller fields are very important for the development of the energy sector in Israel.  The Yotvata field generates electricity with the capacity of 7.9 megawatts while Grofit field has the capacity of 7.8 MW.  The operational Ketura field is a bit smaller, and generates 4.9 MW of electricity.
The site manager of the Grofit and Yotvata solar fields, engineer Nasser Mohammad, explained to me the construction process and showed me the sites.  Mr. Nasser is the chief foreman of the fields, and his work focuses on the various logistics of these sites.  His job is also to ensure that the solar field construction site is a safe working place.
Grofit solar field construction site. Photo: Samuel WillnerGrofit solar field construction site. Photo: Samuel Willner
Several construction teams work at the building sites, each with their own tasks.  According to Nasser Mohammad, a solar field size of 100 dunams (10 hectares) takes about 6-7 months to build.  When the field is ready to generate power, the only visible parts of the field are the long rows of solar panels which convert sunlight into electricity.  For instance the Grofit field consists of 22,000 solar panels while the Yotvata field consists of 23,400 solar panels.  This is an enormous number of photovoltaic panels, and the amount materializes only when one sees the actual building site.
The new solar panels already have higher capacity to produce electricity compared to the ones manufactured just few years ago.  Capacity is a very important criterion for the building of solar panels. From a consumer point of view, important criteria are; what is the price of a solar panel, and further, what is the price of produced electricity.  As far as consumers are concerned, the answer goes: the cheaper electricity is the better. 
Mr. Nasser is confident about the future prospects of solar power.  There is no doubt that solar power will be one of the most significant sources of future electricity generation.  However Mr. Nasser emphasizes that the technology still needs to develop and that the price of the solar panels needs to go further down.  The energy security strategy requires that more investments are needed to develop this technology, and as a result, new solar power sites will be commissioned.