World’s Tallest Solar Tower Rising in the Negev
Tiny Israel now has the tallest solar thermal energy tower on the planet, 750 feet (80 stories) high. When the entire Ashalim B power plant in the Negev Desert is completed at the end of this year, it will supply enough renewable electric power for 120,000 households.
Computers control the system’s 50,600 mirrors, which track the sun and concentrate its light on a boiler mounted on the tower. This generates high-temperature steam to power electricity-producing turbines. The plant is being erected by Megalim Solar Power Ltd., a consortium of three companies.
The world’s largest such system—located in Ivanpah, in California’s Mojave Desert—had a rocky start when it was unable to produce the amount of energy planned. “We are studying what happened in Ivanpah and trying to get better results,” said Eran Gartner, Megalim’s CEO.
Since the start of the Ashalim project, the cost of generating electricity by a competing solar technology, photovoltaic panels, has dropped, but it was “not feasible or logical” to replicate that technology in the new tower, Gartner said. Solar thermal systems, he explained, are better able to cope with changing weather conditions and can store the power longer.
Ashalim-produced electricity will cost nearly double that of conventionally produced power and will increase consumer costs slightly, Gartner noted. However, the project will help Israel meet its commitment of using renewable sources for 10 percent of its energy needs by 2020, and 17 percent by 2030.