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Petal Power: New Hybrid Solar Power Station in Spain Works 24/7, Rain or Shine

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February 08, 2012

Petal Power: New Hybrid Solar Power Station in Spain Works 24/7, Rain or Shine

By Cheryl Kaften
TMCnet Contributor


In the middle of a field in Almeria, Spain, stands a 35-yard-tall tulip-shaped tower, surrounded by a field of shiny heliostats or mirrors. It looks more like a brilliantly lit extraterrestrial air traffic control tower than anything else — but it uses its power for the good of mankind.

The 100-kilowatt (kWe) and 170-kilowatt (kWt) Tulip System actually is the first hybrid micro concentrating solar-gas power (CSP) plant of its kind in Europe; built by Israel-based Aora Solar and sited on half an acre of land in Platforma Solar Almeria (PSA), Spain, PSA is the world’s largest and most exclusive science park, dedicated solely to the research and development of solar-based generating systems.

(Photo courtesy of Aora Solar)

The patented Tulip receiver uses solar energy to heat air to a temperature of 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius) and directs this energy into a turbine, which converts the thermal energy into electric power that is fed directly into the national grid. It also shifts to hybrid mode, in which fuel helps generate full power when sunlight is insufficient, such as when it is cloudy; it also has a fuel-only mode during night hours or heavily overcast periods, thereby guaranteeing an uninterrupted power supply, day and night. In addition, the 170 kilowatts of thermal energy created as a by-product of the electrical generation, will be used for the operation of a demonstration desalination unit capable of delivering three m³ of fresh water per 24 hour cycle

The Tulip went into operation in Almeria just this week, generating low-cost, continuous clean energy 24/7. There’s only one other like it in commission, the first Tulip ever built by Aora, at theWeizmann Institute of Science in the Arava desert in southern Israel in 2009. The facility was immediately nicknamed the "Power Flower" station, due to its unique yellow tulip design, developed by Tel-Aviv-based Haim Dotan Ltd. architects. The Israel-based plant comprises a field of 30 tracking mirrors (heliostats) situated on half an acre of land, with a 33-yard-high tower standing in the middle of the complex at Kibbutz Samar, outside Eilat.

According to Aora Solar, in comparison to other power generation platforms, the Tulip:

  • Offers a unique modular distributed solar thermal (DST) technology  configured in compact base units (100kWe each), which are connectable, offering scalable utility grade power for both on-grid and stand-alone applications. Additionally, AORA’s technology enables developers to commission and finance solar fields in phases, offering the added benefit of quick market entry. The modularity of the system provides a constant supply of electricity, even while individual units are undergoing repairs or routine maintenance.
  • Works around the clock, even at night and in heavy cloud coverage, using alternative fuels to continue powering the micro turbine. Quick-response heat augmentation by fuel burners provides constant heat input to the turbine, maintaining grid stability by supplying solar power, or by slowly minimizing the power generated by the turbine
  • Runs on alternative fuels, such as diesel, natural gas, LNG, biogas, and biofuel, when it is not using solar energy. The Tulip produces 170kW of heat energy that can be used for heating, cooling (absorption chillers), hot air/water for industrial and domestic processes, or dehumidification of bio-waste and desalination.
  • Needs very little water to function optimally, making it the perfect power generator for arid locations. Unlike other solar thermal systems that use steam to drive large turbines, the Tulip uses hot air to power micro turbines, requiring just eight percent of the amount of water that CSP (News - Alert) steam technologies consume.

Among the dignitaries in attendance at the February 7 Aora Tulip launch were representatives from the Spanish and Israeli governments, including Israeli Ambassador to Spain Alon Bar; as well as delegations of businesspeople from Spain, Mexico, and the United States interested in purchasing Aora’s Tulip system.

Israeli Ambassador Alon Bar commented, “Today’s launch in Almeria Spain sees the implementation of collaboration with huge potential between Spain and Israel. With Israel’s ability to generate initiative and innovation, and Spain’s interest in renewable energy, combined with the Spain’s economic necessity to collaborate with innovative technologies that they don’t necessarily have here, it creates an ideal situation for Israeli companies like Aora to thrive in this country.”

Diego Martinez (News - Alert), the director of Platforma Solar Almeira, remarked, “The PSA is the Spanish R&D center for CSP technology, and our work for 30 years has been to cooperate in the deployment of CSP technology. Our cooperation with Aora Solar is a demonstration of technology that really works. We will help support the company to improve and find solutions to make use of the heat waste from the plant. We have a research line for water desalination and solar cooling for buildings, so we can study options here with them.”

Finally, Chaim Dotan, the architect of the Aora Tulip, described its beauty and environmental properties: “The tower in the Tulip system integrates with the environment, using recyclable materials and forms that are friends to the natural surroundings. The tower structures in the shape of flowers are not more expensive, due to prefabrication of steel sections.  We have created beauty without the expense.”

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

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