New Negev research center to test solar technology

The Negev-based Solar Energy Development Center is on track to move forward the initiative of a US-Israeli company to build the world's largest solar plant.

solar plant 88 224 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
solar plant 88 224
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
The newly built Negev-based Solar Energy Development Center is on track to move forward the initiative of a US-Israeli company to build the world's largest solar plant in California's Mojave desert. The Californian company BrightSource Energy, formed in 2006, and its Israel-based subsidiary Luz II are dedicating the center Thursday. The facility took a year and a half to build and is not yet fully functional, but will be completed for technology testing in about a month. "With appropriate and comprehensive public policy infrastructure being put in place on a national and global scale, solar power is ready to be pushed to the forefront and deliver the highest quality, carbon-free energy to the world," Arnold Goldman, chairman and founder of the two companies, told The Jerusalem Post. The development center, located in the Rotem Industrial Park, is intended to perform as a technological center for the company. The site features more than 1,600 glass mirrors, known as heliostats, which track the sun and reflect light onto a 60 meter-high tower. The concentrated energy is then used to heat a boiler atop the tower to 550 degrees Celsius, generating steam that is piped into a turbine, where electricity can be produced. In order to preserve the precious desert water used in the energy-producing process, the center created a closed water loop that uses an air-cooling system to change the produced steam back into water, then allowing it to return to the boiler. The testing center, if it were equipped to act as a fully operational thermal electricity generator could produce 1.5 megawatts, enabling power to 1,100 homes, equal to removing 400 cars off the road, according to Charlie Ricker, senior vice president of marketing and business for BrightSource. Last month, the company announced it had secured $115 million from investors such as Google and BP Alternative Energy, raising its total procurement to $160m. No other solar energy site has been able to record the same measures of pressure or efficiency as the Negev facility, executives said, making the center "truly innovative." "Any Israeli solar development should be good for Israel," said Professor David Faiman, the chairman of Ben-Gurion University's solar energy and environmental physics department and director of the National Solar Energy Center. "[The development center] will serve an ongoing, long term purpose of giving us a living laboratory to test new equipment, new materials, new processes and new construction methods...because what looks good on paper, doesn't always work the way you thought," he said. According to president and CEO of BrightSource, John Woolard 100 nuclear coal plants will be built by 2020. "We would like to be building, between us and our competitors, more solar thermal energy plants than they are able to build nuclear plants every year," said Woolard. The California-based Pacific Gas and Electric Company recently agreed to a 900 MW commitment over the next 25 years, which is the largest agreement to ever take place in the solar industry. The agreement, Woolard said, is the equivalent of one nuclear coal plant that will no longer be needed. He added that Goldman and his team made huge strides in the renewable energy field in the 1980s proving it was possible to have an alternative to fossil fuels and that "the conventional wisdom was wrong." The company's innovations in recent years brought about the huge Pacific Gas deal. The California solar plant is set to be fully functional by mid-2011, according to Goldman. The site would be able to produce 100 MW, enabling power to 75,000 homes, the equivalent of removing 26,000 cars from the road. Goldman said he hopes to expand and increase the company's solar energy sites, and even create a plant in Israel. "There is a popular desire to produce solar energy because it doesn't have any negative impact toward global warming or air quality," Goldman said. "Every day the sun delivers about 5,000 times the amount of energy that the world needs. There is going to be a major transformation in the energy field and [renewable energy is] going to play a major role of reducing the cost of what we consume."