Not enough land for a solar power plant?

So build on the water, Israeli energy company proposes.

yossi fisher solaris 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
yossi fisher solaris 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
One of the major challenges involved in turning solar energy into electricity is finding the vast tracts of land required - rows upon rows of solar panels take up a lot of space. In developed countries, land is always at a premium. In Israel, land is an even scarcer commodity, and is also often hotly contested. While many companies are focusing on solar power systems requiring less land, one company has gone in a different direction altogether - building on water. Solaris Synergy was formed last year and aims to deploy a proprietary floating concentrated photovoltaic system on bodies of water throughout Israel, CEO Yossi Fisher told The Jerusalem Post recently from the company's offices in Har Hotzvim, Jerusalem. The system itself is self-contained, and therefore it doesn't matter what type of water it floats on. Solaris Synergy is focusing on Israel's 160 sewage-water reclamation reservoirs. According to the company's calculations, it could produce as much as 320 MW from those surfaces (comparable to the output of a small natural gas turbine). Fisher also pointed out that obtaining the necessary permits to use such reservoirs was much simpler as they were controlled by local authorities and not the Israel Lands Administration. He said the company had already received a letter of intent from one municipality for a 1 MW pilot project. The projects would take advantage of the forthcoming feed-in tariffs for medium sized systems to generate revenue. The company hopes to take advantage of the relatively virgin market worldwide once it establishes its credentials in Israel. According to their market research, there are only a handful of other companies around the world focusing on water-based solar energy. The technology itself is unique in that it uses a self-contained evaporation cooling system to keep the panels at an even temperature twenty-four hours a day. Keeping solar panels cool has two benefits: First, the hotter a panel gets, the less efficient it is, and second, it eliminates the daily thermal cycle of fluctuating temperatures, which causes a lot of wear and tear on a panel's semi-conducting components. In addition, controlling panel temperature enables the use of silicon panels, which are cheaper to manufacture than other types, Fisher said. Moreover, building on water made the sun tracking system much simpler, Fisher explained. Instead of a complicated system, the platform would need just one tracking motor to spin it in a circle throughout the day to follow the sun. Earlier this year, the company was awarded a research grant from the National Infrastructures Ministry. They have also raised funds from a private firm in the US, but are looking to raise more. The goal is to produce electricity at a cost which rivals electricity from fossil fuels. Right now, the estimated capital costs are $5 per watt. They hope to drive that down to $3/W by 2011 and $1/W by 2013, according to Fisher.