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Exclusive Feature: Concentrated solar power innovators, Part I


REFocus contributor David Appleyard was recently invited by the Israeli Ministry of Economy to witness some of the country’s innovators in concentrating solar power. One such specialist is Rotem Industries Ltd., a high-tech complex providing an environment for scientific research and technology development.

In the wilds of the Negev desert, Rotem Industrial Park in Israel has nurtured some of the world’s best-known and commercial concentrating solar thermal power technologies. Unashamedly modelling itself on California’s Silicon Valley in offering a conducive and collegiate research and development environment for cutting-edge clean tech, it’s a model that nonetheless appears to yield results.

Approaching the Rotem technology institute across a Spartan and sun-baked landscape deep within Israel’s forbidding Negev desert, the ancient ruins of a nearby citadel evoke a sense of mystery. Within though, and all thoughts of ancient ruins are immediately confined firmly to the past as cutting-edge concentrating solar power technology gleams under the blazing sun, generating clean, emission-free power for the modern age.

Formally established in the 1980s, Rotem employs around 150 people and the green energy centre is headed up by Meni Maor, director of business development. He explains that the Rotem Industrial Park, established by Rotem Industries Ltd., is a high-tech complex providing an environment for scientific research and technology development. Designed as an incubator for everything from tech start-ups right through to marketing, Rotem Industrial Park enjoys preferred area status from the government. 

Naturally, this equates to substantial grant and tax benefit opportunities, but every developer at the park is also provided with a suite of technological services and management support covering contacts with the local and government authorities and the receipt of the appropriate permits and incentives. Designed to free developers from the bureaucracy, red tape and administrative difficulties that often accompany industrial start-ups, the aim is to allow developers’ focus to remain exclusively on the project at hand. According to Maor, every technology and economic organisation interested in the application and marketing of scientific discoveries in Israel, as well as the Israeli government, support Rotem. “We invite you to bring your ideas and initiatives – everything else needed for successful implementation is already in place,” he stated. 
Maor also highlights the strong social ties that have developed in the close-knit community, which he says arguably enhances the distribution of information to ensure that new technological developments are securely and quickly shared among the various clean-tech residents to further support commercial development.

Indeed, Moar happily acknowledges that the site, near Dimona some 160 km from Jerusalem in the South of Israel, has been carefully modelled on California's Silicon Valley, offering a geographically concentrated locus with industrial and supply infrastructure and associated professional and technical networks.
In this case the free flow of ideas between industrial scientists, academia, engineers and consultants comes from fields as diverse as materials engineering, electronics, chemicals, computers, physics, and quality control. The Park does have a number of key technology centres, covering fields such as medical imaging, crystals growth and processing, radiation detection and computational mechanics, as well as the Renewable Energy Innovation Center. It’s no surprise to learn this centre is actively engaged in technology incubation, research, development, industrialization and commercialization of renewable energy technologies.

Rotem’s Renewable Energy Innovation Center
    Rotem offers four principal activities for renewable energy technology players, including provision of hosting, supporting and technological outsourcing services to entrepreneurs and early stage technologies. Another key platform is the Renewable Energy Testing and Demonstration Center, home to the glittering structures that can be seen capturing the sun’s energy all around the squat concrete buildings that form the institute’s various laboratories and offices.

The solar demonstration, testing and technology validation center (SDTV) occupies an area of over 60,000 m2 in the Rotem Industrial Park, where it is estimated that over 15 different solar technologies will be hosted for demonstration, testing and verification purposes. Each technology will be installed in a 1000 – 20,000 m2 plot.

Within the green energy R&D centre Maor says a range of capabilities and expertise is available, including mechanical engineering, thermodynamics and computational simulations; metallurgy and materials Knowledge Centers and laboratories; the Thermal Solar Energy Applications Technological Center and Hydrogen Storage Research Center; meteorology; and, optics and coating laboratories, among others.

The centre also provides professional support for the promotion and establishment of solar power projects as well as its so-called Horizon GreenTech Ventures, an incubation programme for seed-early stage technologies in the green energy domain.

Formed by a 2011 partnership between Alstom SA, Rotem Industries and Gefen Biomed Investments, Horizon GreenTech ventures’ mission is to accelerate the successful development of entrepreneurial green energy technology companies by providing initial funding, technological and business support, industrial orientation, resources and other services.

Creating a joint venture to finance and support renewable energy start-ups, Alstom has a 50% share, Gefen holds 30% and Rotem has 20%. Initially expectations had been to finance some 10 business-incubation projects in three-four years but Maor explains that this target had been reached within two and a half years. Maor suggests a typical timeframe of 1-3 years to develop a feasible product from seed technology with Alstom set for investment and a likely first mover role in any emerging technology.

Among companies nurtured by the Horizon programme is SunBoost, a PV technology with a novel optical collector that stands between the rows of panels reflecting light onto their surface. The company has contracted and is installing its first pilot plant – a 50 kWp plant near Ashkelon in Israel, in a demonstration project that its backers say should deliver a 15% increase in annual electricity production over a comparable PV project. 

Alstom, whose power and energy assets are now being acquired by GE, says it chose Israel “because the country already has one of the world’s most advanced technology industries in renewable and alternative energy sources”. The initiative was also in line with Alstom's global innovation strategy and complemented other business acquisitions designed to strengthen the company’s position in sectors such as concentrated solar power, energy storage and grid stability.

Alstom's subsequent scouting for novel technologies in Israel resulted in the execution of an international cooperation agreement with the Office of the Chief Scientist in Israel, signed in 2013. The agreement enables the support of the Ministry of Economy on joint R&D projects and enables Israeli entities access to a leading energy technology player.

Israel’s Ministry of Energy and Water Resources
has also supported the site in other ways. The Ministry chose a number of locations for commercial solar thermal and PV power plants in Israel with capacities of at least 50 MW or more. Four out of seven sites designated as feasible by Geo-Prospect Ltd., the company chosen to find land for the projects, are located in Dimona and the wider Mishor-Yamin area with a collective development area of some 10 million m2. Sites include one of around 6,000 acres at Dimona as well as a 2000 acre site in an industrial area west of Dimona and a railway loop east of Dimona of 5,000 acres. Other sites include about 6,000 acres southwest of the Rotem park and the current site of the park itself, which covers around 200 ha having been expanded. In 2009 the Ministry defined these areas as a national priority for the establishment of renewable energy and with good reason, the Mishor Yamin region is ideal for solar power facilities.

Rotem Industries and the Dimona Municipality are planning to establish a joint activity in order to development “in the near future” while the Ministry continues to promote programmes to expand the supply side of renewable energy development. 

Maor notes that some 500 MW of solar capacity is planned for the region in the next five years and he is optimistic that the bulk of this capacity will be concentrating solar thermal though the projects are currently still in the panning process, which is expected to take at least another year to finalise.
Alstom had previously won the €450 million tender to design, build and operate a 121 MW solar thermal power plant at Ashalim the Western Negev in partnership with Brightsource Energy - having formed the Magalim consortium for the purpose. The Ashalim plant is due for completion in early 2017 at a total cost of some $851 million (€625 million). Megalim Solar Power Ltd - a special purpose company formed by Alstom (25.05%), BrightSource (25.05%), and NOY Infrastructure & Energy Investment Fund (49.9%) – has obtained financing from the European Investment Bank and the Bank Hapoalim for the project and announced financial close in July last year. 

Located on a 3.15 km2 site in the Negev desert, more than 50,000 tracking heliostats will reflect sunlight onto a receiver on a 240-metre-high tower. On the financial closure, David Ramm, chairman and CEO of BrightSource Energy, said: “This is the first in what we expect will be a number of strategic partnerships with Alstom to leverage the expertise of both firms.”

Indeed, BrightSource is a prominent but far from singular success story to have emerged with the support of the Rotem Technology Institute, which still hosts the BrightSource research installation. It is, of course, BrightSource technology which lies at the heart of the Ivanpah concentrating solar thermal power plant in California, in the USA. A joint effort between NRG, Google and BrightSource with Bechtel as EPC contractor, at 392 MW it is the world’s largest such project currently operating since its full commissioning in early 2014. 
Putting this in context, commenting at the official inauguration of Ivanpah, Ramm noted that “with all three units now delivering power to our customers’ specifications, BrightSource has demonstrated its solar power technology at scale”. His comments came a scant five years after BrightSource Energy implemented its 6 MWth Luz Power Tower 550 (LPT) solar thermal demonstration facility at the Rotem Industrial Park in June 2008.

This research facility includes a 12,000 m2 heliostat field with 1641 2.25m x 3.25m reflectors and a 60 metre-high tower holding the 15 metre receiver. It was designed to produce superheated steam at 540°C and 140 bar, similar conditions to those found in a typical 100 MW thermal power plant. In order to conserve water, the demonstration plant uses air-cooled condensers for the steam cycle. With their Solar Energy Development Center (SEDC) providing the company with the ability to test equipment, materials and procedures as well as construction and operating methods, Luz II Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of BrightSource Energy, Inc., is responsible for all BrightSource solar technology development, plant design and engineering. 

Late 2014, Brightsource followed the Ivanpah headlines by signing a joint venture deal with Shanghai Electric Group Co., Ltd to build utility-scale CSP plants in China. The venture’s first proposal is for two 135 MW CSP plants with storage for the first phase of the Qinghai Delingha Solar Thermal Power Generation Project, majority owned by Huanghe Hydropower Development Co., Ltd. A further four units without storage are also planned as part of the project. Construction of the first two plants is expected to begin in 2015 and be completed in 2017.
Part II of this features looks at some of the region’s other CSP innovators, including Heliofocus.

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Energy efficiency  •  Energy infrastructure  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity  •  Solar heating and cooling




05 February 2015
CSP is the future Energy option.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

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