For the first time since the Vietnam War era, “flower people” and what they refer to as “flower power” have hit the news—this time, for a new type of hybrid solar tower that was launched first in Israel and now is ready to begin operations in Spain.
In the parched Arava desert, outside the Israeli resort town of Eilat, where temperatures top 100 degrees Fahrenheit, a bright yellow “tulip” blooms—soaring 98 feet high and surrounded by a half-acre of huge mirrors. This is not a mirage. It’s the first hybrid solar tower constructed by Rehovot, Israel-based AORA Solar—completed in 2009, and currently capable of continually generating 100 kilowatts of electric power and 170 kilowatts of thermal power.
The 30 giant-size mirrors, or heliostats, track and reflect the sun toward the top of the tower, where there is a solar receiver, as well as a 100-kilowatt (kW) gas turbine. The concentrated sunlight heats compressed air to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which then drives the gas turbine and creates electricity. When there isn’t any sun available, the turbine can run on biogas, biodiesel, diesel, and natural gas.
Based on technology developed at the Weizmann Institute of Science, an international think tank located in Rehovat, Israel combined with the design of Haim Dotan Ltd. Architects of Tel-Aviv, the unique bulblike shape and bright yellow color were a matter of both form and function. The facility is on a bird migratory route and the smooth shape of the tower keeps birds from landing on it. The yellow also enables low-flying aircraft from a nearby Air Force base to see it.
The first unit, deployed in Arava, cost $500,000 ($5,000 per kilowatt) to install and is powering around 70 Israeli homes. That’s actually a per-household cost of just over $7,000 for installation—a price the company expects to come down as they begin creating these units at greater scale and sourcing local materials and labor.
And just this week, AORA Solar announced that it has completed construction on its second gas turbine solar thermal power station, located in Almeria, Spain The new station currently is undergoing commissioning and certification, and is scheduled to begin regular power generation early this year.
AORA’s Almeria power station is situated on a half-acre of land in Platforma Solar Almeria, the world's largest and most exclusive science park, dedicated solely to the research and development of solar-based power-generating systems. The Almeria plant comprises a field of 52 tracking mirrors. Each heliostat follows the sun and directs its rays towards the top of a 35 meter-high tower housing a special solar receiver along with a 100 kWe gas turbine.
Once power generation begins, “We hope to replicate this with several other countries; [including] the United States., Australia, India, [and] South Africa,” AORA COO, Yuval Susskind told Energy Boom. “This is a technology that is more relevant to sunny areas— as opposed to photovoltaics, which are better for areas with some clouds. Our technology is perfect for the solar belt; such as California, Arizona, Australia.”
Susskind likes to call their technology “community solar.” He explains, “It’s not residential solar; it’s for the village. Solar thermal has always been used for huge projects that take up a lot of land. We’ve miniaturized the technology to bring small-scale solar thermal.”
Small scale, localized solar thermal means that there’s no need for large swaths of land or high voltage power lines to haul the electricity back to the end users. “By being …small scale, we’ve parked these puppies right in town and can generate power close to where people live.”
In addition to producing electricity, the Almeria plant also produces 170 kW of heat as a byproduct, which will be used to power a desalination plant. The station was constructed over a period of seven months, and is designed for a minimum economic lifespan of 25 years.
This new type of power station offers a modular approach, which:
- Facilitates construction in scattered locations and on sloped land,
- Places less stress on the energy grid, and
- Provides customers with the ability to finance installations in stages.
"We are very excited to complete construction on our second power station, and we look forward to demonstrating our unique ability to provide our customers with uninterrupted, 24/7 clean-power," said Zev Rosenzweig, AORA's CEO. "Our technology and scalable solution can be easily customized for a variety of applications and environments and I believe this demonstration unit will be quickly followed by additional installations in Spain and around the world."
AORA will officially dedicate the Almeria plant in a special ceremony on February 7, 2012. Cheryl Kaften is an accomplished communicator who has written for consumer and corporate audiences. She has worked extensively for MasterCard (News - Alert) Worldwide, Philip Morris USA (Altria), and KPMG, and has consulted for Estee Lauder and the Philadelphia Inquirer Newspapers. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Rich Steeves