With a 35 meter high sun-ray collection tower and about 50 mirrors positioned to direct the sun, Israel’s AORA is about to flip the switch on its latest solar power plant in Spain. The company created a huge buzz in Israel in 2009 when it was the first solar energy company to connect to the national grid. Since, it has been under the radar, and has recently emerged at the prestigious Platforma Solar Almeria in Almeria, Spain.
The new ultra-high temperature concentrating solar power (CSP) technology it is showcasing there focuses heliostats, small mirrors, onto a sun collecting turbine built on top of the “tulip” pictured above.
While the plant only produces kilowatts of electrical and thermal energy, and not megawatts like we see at CSP solar plants made by BrightSource or the CSP plant at Kuraymat, Egypt, the idea here is something kind of novel: to create small power plants around or very close to the grid, so that less power is lost along the way, in transmission.
The invention started in the labs of Prof. Jacob Karni at the Weizmann Institute in the 80s.
The company can build around wildlife corridors, a huge plus if you consider the BrightSource turtle fiasco, and there is virtually no down time for maintenance as one of many units can go offline at a time without disrupting the whole system. Other benefits include the ability to power the turbines with alternative fuel at night, when the sun’s not shining.
Regulatory hurdles, or quick sand however you want to describe bureaucrasy has prevented the company from multiplying its bright tulips all over the Holy Land.
I spoke with the CEO of AORA last week, Zev Rosenzweig and he says that a single unit would cost about half a million USD to set up, and would power about 50 homes in Europe (based on a 2 kw home), a few fewer in the US where consumption is higher. Each AORA plant generates 100 kw of electric power, and an additional 170kW thermal power.
Watch out for AORA as they flip the switch in Spain on February 7.