Implementing solar at scale: Elad Goldberg’s experience in the solar industry has a global impact

  (photo credit: Elad Goldberg)
(photo credit: Elad Goldberg)

Israel has become globally recognized as an inventive nation across many sectors; often called the “Startup Nation,” the country never shies away from innovation and serves as a pioneer for the newest, most advanced developments in a number of industries. In recent years, Israel has begun to focus heavily on the power of solar energy and other renewable energy sources, shaping some of the most well-trained industry thought leaders, funding cutting-edge projects, and showcasing the possibilities of renewable energy. One of the people at the forefront of this movement in Israel has been Elad Goldberg, a renewable energy expert who focuses on the design and implementation of large-scale solar projects.

Solar energy has the potential to decarbonize industries that have historically had a largely negative impact on the environment. Oil and gas, manufacturing, transportation, and other similar industries are all critical players that need to adopt a renewable energy approach in order for the world to prosper. As organizations and countries around the world have begun to recognize the financial benefits of solar energy, as well as its sustainability lift, the demand for industrial solar projects has skyrocketed. 

Elad’s skills as an engineering manager were refined in Israel; he worked on projects in a country that was eager to advance in the solar industry, and it wasn’t long before his skillset depth was noticed by global corporations and countries around the world who were making commitments to renewable energy. 

Elad was first asked to come to the United States in 2008 when Chevron Oil started an Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) Project. Since this was the first project of its kind, Elad applied his solar expertise and helped the organization develop a solar-to-steam (S2S) approach. This was the first time Elad supported a successful international implementation, and since then, his work has spanned the globe. Supporting the US, Morocco, Israel, and other countries in their endeavors has enhanced his impact on the world. 

In 2011, Elad returned to the United States to build what was then the largest solar plant in California’s Mojave Desert. Driving on route I-15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, travelers will witness the reflection from an ocean of mirrors that surround 3 giant 500-foot towers shining as bright as the sun. This visual splendor is known as the Ivanpah Concentrated Solar Power plant (“CSP”), a 4000-acre mammoth power plant ensconced in one of the greatest wonders of the solar energy industry, delicately balanced the surrounding nature. Ivanpah was developed by an Israeli company called BrightSource. With a United States Department of Energy loan guarantee in hand, Elad spent 3 years constructing this marvel alongside around 3,000 American workers.

In fact, the sheer scale of the project drew the attention of former President Clinton, a longtime advocate of clean energy, who visited the site in 2013. “Because of my role with the plant and reputation as a skilled Israeli engineer, I was selected by the CEO to discuss Ivanpah’s installation and the future of solar energy with Clinton,” said Goldberg, who remembers their collaboration to this day. “He asked me why we aren’t building power plants like this in the Sinai Desert together with our Egyptian neighbors. I said we would one day.” Today, while there is not yet a power plant on the Egyptian border with Israel, the Noor Energy I project in Dubai is a joint collaboration with Israel and the UAE, and it is currently the largest solar power plant in the world.

“At the time, we ‘packed the technology in our suitcases’,” said Goldberg, reminiscing on Ivanpah’s energy processes. Elad goes on to explain that solar technology has continued to advance since the construction of Ivanpah. “A decade later and now photovoltaic modules, or PV energy, is the name of the game today,” said Goldberg who has since been involved in developing photovoltaic plants. “However, Ivanpah was and still is an engineering splendor, and a modern monument of human ingenuity. It generates enough energy to power 400,000 homes in California, daily.”

In 2018, Israel started the largest PV project in its history, and Elad served as the expert leading this project. Working for Shikun & Binui Energy, a large firm in Israel, he was able to complete the Zeelim 120 MW PV Project that had a budget of 400 million ILS, or $115 million USD. Managing R&D, new technology implementations, cyber security, and energy efficiency, Elad continued to prove that no challenge was too large, and no new concept was unachievable. 

Renewable energy is often seen as a threat to long-standing industries, forcing professionals in this field to fight uphill battles and avoid mistakes at all costs. While Elad fights for the future of solar and the future of humanity, he illustrates that renewable energy can be a tool for long-standing industries, and instead of seeing solar energy as a threat, they should see it as the way to succeed in the future. It’s a difficult mindset shift to achieve, but for nearly two decades, Elad has let the work speak for itself, delivering stellar results with every project he works on.

Elad Goldberg is currently the Vice President of Engineering at Kuubix Construction Group in the United States, and he remains as passionate about the issue as he was 15 years ago. In a brief interview, he answers some questions about his background and thoughts about the future of the industry. 

What sparked your passion for this field? 

When I joined BrightSource in 2007 it was a young and vibrant company with a mission to bring clean solar energy to market at large scale. There’s nothing more rewarding than working on technology that can dramatically bring down the use of fossil fuels, and directly affect global warming. It’s an electrical engineer’s dream come true.

We always talk about Israeli technology and Israel being the Start Up Nation. If that’s the case, what makes the United States such an attractive market for solar energy? 

Unquestionably, Israel has the R&D capacity but the United States has the ability to implement on a physically large scale, and that scaling, in terms of actual geographical size, makes a difference. There are 50 states, all with different climates and requirements. Knowing how to build useful and efficient renewable projects in each state is what makes the U.S. platform special. Equally important is the adoption rate of these technologies. There is fairly significant awareness of global warning issues, and this awareness, combined with relatively high electrical pricing, the right political climate, and land availability directly together contribute to large scale adoption of solar and wind energies in the US. 

If you had to put your vision into words, what would it be? 

It’s not going to sound sexy but personal responsibility is huge part of solar scalability. Consumers need to be more aware of their energy needs and consumption patterns, and education is a big part of teaching the public how they can conserve energy, reducing their own carbon footprint long before renewable energy can save the day. Every right comes with a responsibility. And if we accept the notion that we all have a right to affordable energy and a clean planet, then we must also do our part as individuals.  

As proud as he is of his impact on the energy sector, Elad emphasizes that his greatest success and source of passion is his children. They are the reason Elad spent his life devoted to doing things differently, changing the narrative, and building a better world. He’s an expertly talented engineer, and his talent could have gone into any sector. Instead, Elad made a commitment to his family and made solar energy more accessible, reliable, and understood on a global scale. The impact he’s had is already more than most people could ever dream of and he does not appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

This article was written in cooperation with Craig Lebrau