Israel Gets Its First Big Solar Project: 5th Largest in the World

Next year, construction begins on one of the biggest solar thermal plants in the world – in Israel’s Negev Desert.

The 121 megawatt (MW) Ashalim power plant will be the first of three, for a total of 250 MW. When it’s finished, this one plant will supply 2.5% of Israel’s electricity and will be the fifth largest in the world.

Israel’s goal is to get 5% of its energy from renewable sources by 2014 and 10% by 2020. To reach the goal, 2.8 gigawatts must be installed in the next six years. 

This is the first large solar plant in Israel. Although the country is soaked in sunshine and has a thriving cleantech industry, it is just starting on significant home-grown renewable energy projects.

The final project will consists of two solar thermal plants (also called concentrating solar) and one, smaller 30 MW solar PV plant. The developers will build and operate the plant for 25 years and then transfer ownership to the State of Israel. 

Brightsource Energy – which is building the plant in a joint venture with French utility Alstom – just completed the world’s largest solar thermal project in California’s Mohave desert, the 377 MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System.

Solar Tower

Brightsource got its start in Israel and most of its 400-person workforce is in Jerusalem, working on research and development. 

"The staff is very happy to be working in the country, in Israel. It’s a real help to have a big project next door to us," CEO Israel Kroizer told ISRAEL21c. "We will learn a lot from it, instead of flying 10,000 miles to California every time we want to learn something."

Even though solar thermal is more expensive to build than solar PV, Israel chose it because it provides "a real substitute to conventional power plants which consume fossil fuels," says Israel’s Ministry of Finance. That’s because Brightsource’s solar tower technology includes energy storage.

Because of BrightSource’s experience developing Ivanpah, this summer it was chosen to supply the technology for the first commercial-scale solar thermal project in China.

BrightSource estimates the global solar thermal market will reach 30 gigawatts (GW) by 2020, up from just over 2 GW in 2012. 

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