The largest renewable energy project in Israel – a vast thermo-solar power plant near Ashalim in the Negev – was inaugurated on Thursday at a ceremony attended by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and senior government and business officials.
Spanning approximately 390 hectares – larger than the central city of Givatayim – the 121-megawatt solar power facility will supply electricity to approximately 70,000 households in Israel, or approximately 0.75% of all electricity generated in Israel.
The $1.13 billion plant, a public-private partnership (PPP), was constructed by Negev Energy, a special purpose company held by Shikun & Binui Renewable Energy, Israeli investment fund Noy Fund and Spanish engineering group TSK. The Noy Fund and TSK joined the project in April 2016, after Spanish company Abengoa, a former project partner, went bankrupt.
“If our main purpose in the past was to supply energy for the people in Israel, the Israeli economy and industry, and public health was maybe secondary, we have changed our perspective,” said Steinitz. “The main goal now is to supply energy but also to make it clean and to make sure that we will reduce rather than increase air pollution.”
The power plant, Steinitz said, will contribute significantly to Israel’s target of making 10% of the country’s electricity supply renewable by 2020, and 17% by 2030. At full capacity, the plant will reduce approximately 245,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel sources, equivalent to taking 50,000 vehicles off the road.
“We’re going to meet our target next year, but we are already considering increasing the goal for 2030 and increase the volume of renewables,” Steinitz said. “This is under examination by the Electricity Authority. In the near future, we will terminate the use of coal and other polluting fuels in Israel altogether, and close the coal turbines in Hadera and later on in Ashkelon. It will be only natural gas and renewables, mainly solar systems.”
Unlike nearby photovoltaic (PV) power plants, which directly convert sunlight into electricity, the thermo-solar power plant near Ashalim absorbs solar energy through over 450,000 rotating parabolic mirrors, forming long troughs and collector loops. Synthetic oil inside the loops is heated to 390°C, and by using heat exchangers, thermal energy is mixed with water to power steam turbines and produce electricity.
The power plant is the only facility in Israel that is also able to produce energy overnight. Home to one of the largest molten salt storage systems worldwide, the plant can provide an additional 4.5 hours of full capacity clean energy after sunset or during inclement weather.
The expansive facility sits alongside two additional PV solar plants, with the three projects near Ashalim boasting a combined capacity of 250 megawatts of energy. The neighboring 121-megawatt Megalim Solar Power plant, constructed by General Electric, features the world’s tallest concentrating solar power (CSP) tower.
“When our parents arrived in Israel there was no milk and honey, there was just desert and swampland,” said Naty Saidoff, controlling stakeholder of Shikun & Binui. “We dried the swamps, and now we took something that was arid and dry and turned it into a resource. Israel turned the saltwater into water, and the curse of the sun into a blessing. People turning on their air conditioning in Tel Aviv have the power to cool themselves from the desert sun.”
Negev Energy, commissioned by Israel on a 28-year build-operate-transfer (BOT) concession contract, will allow the company to operate the solar plant for 25 years following the commencement of operations. All electricity generated by the plant will be sold to the Israel Electric Corporation.
Construction and operation of the facility required the employment of hundreds of local employees, including many from nearby Bedouin communities in the Ramat Negev Regional Council. Over 50% of construction employees were from southern regions in Israel.
“A regular construction project requires dozens of permits, but here thousands of permits were required,” said Eran Doron, mayor of the Ramat Negev Regional Council. “For us, it was a huge challenge, but we did it joyfully as we knew we are part of something much bigger, part of this important vision of making Israel greener and cleaner.”
Read more: The Jerusalem Post