Harvesting the desert's crop

Luz II Negev center aims to develop solar energy with eye on overseas markets.

Rotem solar 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Rotem solar 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Two technologies now lie side by side in the Negev desert. One was discovered over 60 years ago and harnesses the power of the atom. The other was perfected in the last 18 months and harnesses the power of the sun. BrightSource Energy and its wholly owned Israeli subsidiary Luz II dedicated its new solar energy development center at the Rotem Industrial Park on Thursday afternoon. The park is just one ridge over from the Dimona nuclear reactor. BrightSource's technology is based on super heating water to produce steam to power the generator. At the testing center, 1,600 mirrors, or heliostats, focus the sun's rays onto a boailer set atop a 60-meter-high tower. The focused rays turn water to steam which would then be used to turn a turbine to generate electricity. The testing center will mainly experiment with the heliostats and the collector, and won't actually generate electricity, a Luz II employee said. It was a gala event on a mild day in the Negev. The employees of Luz II and their families, employees of the original Luz International (which was a leader in solar energy two decades before the current wave of interest), as well as suppliers, partners and the media streamed down from Jerusalem to the desert to inaugurate the testing center. "This is the highest performing, lowest cost thermal system in the world," founder Arnold Goldman told the audience to a round of applause. "I envision generations of boilers and heliostats, each one more efficient at lower cost, being developed here," he said. In just 18 months, Luz II, the research and development side of BrightSource, designed and built the testing center. "The original tower idea was around in the 1970s. There are a few around the world for research purposes and one in Spain for industrial purposes. But the boiler, the receptors, and the command and control were all developed in the last 18 months," modeling and algorithms team leader Gil Kroyzer told The Jerusalem Post at the event. Kroyzer said that while the biggest markets for their product are overseas in Europe, Asia, and the Americas, they were examining a tender here in Israel. "[The government] just published a tender for production of 250 MW from solar energy. We're going to examine the terms closely and see if we want to compete," he told the Post. While BrightSource Energy is incorporated in the US and has just won a very large contract with Pacific Gas and Electric to produce up to 900 MW in the Mojave Desert, the engineering and design is totally blue and white. Design, research and development and construction are all done by Luz II which is totally Israeli, Kroyzer said, while BrightSource deals with management and permitting issues. BrightSource CEO John Woolard gave the Luz II team a very impressive and atypical compliment for Israelis. "I've never seen a group with such a relentless, obsessive commitment to keeping to the schedule," he told the audience. "We have reached the stage of scalability and execution. Our next project is going to be 50 times bigger than the testing center and the one after that 100 times bigger," he said. "Twenty years ago, Arnold Goldman built nine solar power plants in the Mojave desert which are still running today. At the time, they constituted 90% of the solar energy market. I am confident that with a much larger market available in the next two to 10 years, we will take a considerable portion of that one as well," Woolard declared.