ZenithSolar launches first 'cost-effective' solar energy plant

We can produce electricity, hot water at same cost as fossil fuels, says CEO.

solar plant 88 224 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
solar plant 88 224
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
Concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) solar company ZenithSolar of Ness Ziona launched its first commercial generating system on Sunday in the presence of President Shimon Peres and government ministers at Kvutzat Yavne. The 16 combined units will turn out about 150 MWh of electricity and 300 MWh of thermal energy per year. "What is unique about our system is that we will be able to produce energy at around $0.08 per kilowatt/hour without a government subsidy, which is comparable to the cost of electricity from fossil fuel," ZenithSolar CEO Roy Segev told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the launch. CPV technology has existed for two decades, Segev continued, but his company's proprietary optical and manufacturing systems give it a competitive edge. ZenithSolar installations consist mostly of plastic, glass and steel, which drive down costs, as does its unique manufacturing process, which relies on molds to mass produce plastic backing for the mirrors. According to Segev, there is no other company in the world that offers a comparable system. The firm's basic unit, the Z10, consists of 1,200 plastic-backed mirrors that focus the sun on a 10X10 cm solar panel. In concentrating the sun's rays, the panel's electricity-producing efficiency rises. Efficiency rates of over 41 percent have been obtained under laboratory conditions. ZenithSolar has reached 21% in the field. Regular photovoltaic (PV) panels have an efficiency of 12-15%. ZenithSolar's overall system efficiency, when thermal energy is factored in, is 70%, Segev said, adding that the firm hopes to raise this to 75%. Theoretically, one Z10 could be mounted on a private home to provide electricity and hot water. In larger applications, such as that installed at Kvutzat Yavne, two Z10s are mounted side by side (and called the Z20). The modular units take up relatively little land, making CPV more real estate friendly than its PV cousin. Modularity also allows for varying generating needs to be met. The idea behind the technology was developed by ZenithSolar's research and development department in close cooperation with teams of researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Germany's Fraunhofer ISE Research Institute, a world leader in solar energy research. The BGU team was headed by Prof. David Faiman, who heads the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center and has been studying solar energy at Kibbutz Sde Boker for the past 30 years. The German team was led by Dr. Andreas Bett. ZenithSolar was founded in 2006 and has raised $10 million in backing. It has a manufacturing facility in Kiryat Gat. According to the company's Web site, 95% of the system is recyclable, including the dish and its mounting. The electronics and controls are not, but they comprise less than 5% of the total product by weight. While Israel could certainly make good use of the company's products, ZenithSolar's main market would probably be California, Segev said. The firm is marketing its products to municipalities, hotels and industries - all of which require both hot water and electricity. At Kvutzat Yavne, the ZenithSolar system will provide an entire neighborhood with all of its hot water and electricity needs, obviating an annual requirement for 40,000 liters of fuel oil.