An innovative concentrated solar power plant featuring what has been described as the tallest solar tower in the world is being built in Israel.
With 50,000 computer-controlled mirrors focusing solar rays onto the 240m tower, the plant is expected to produce 121 megawatts of power, covering 1 per cent of Israel’s electricity needs.
The plant, located in the Negev desert, not only features the tallest tower, but also larger mirrors, which, unlike in earlier installations, are connected via a Wi-Fi and not cable network. Using Wi-Fi instead of cables reduces cost, said the project’s developer Megalim Solar Power, which hopes to reduce the gap between concentrated solar power technology and photovoltaics, which currently make up 95 per cent of all solar power installations around the world.
"We're making strides in efficiency, we're making strides in compressing the time of construction," said Eran Gartner, chief executive of Israeli-based Megalim. "We're going down a learning curve that will help us to offer solar energy at the most competitive rates."
Compared with photovoltaic panels, which can be installed virtually everywhere and at whatever scale, concentrated solar power projects have to be built on a relatively large area and only make economic sense on a larger scale. High cost has been seen as the major obstacle to wider deployment.
The technology uses mirrors to concentrate the sun's rays onto a tower equipped with a thermal turbine, which generates electricity.
In addition to some cost reduction, the Negev project managed to address another concern related to the operations of concentrated solar power plants – the fact that the temperature increase around the power-generating tower could virtually incinerate birds.
To protect local wildlife, the project’s developers devised technology that sprays vaporised grape skin extract into the surrounding air, which repels the birds, and emits sounds of predators. In addition, the firm has also developed algorithms to lessen the convergence of rays from mirrors on standby, so the air does not get as hot.
The privately funded project, worth $773m, will benefit from an agreement with the Israeli government, which will buy its electricity at an above-market price.
The project’s shareholders include General Electric and power tower pioneer Brightsource Energy.
The Israeli government aims to meet 10 per cent of the country's energy needs with renewable resources by 2020.