Israeli Company Develops Solar Power Flower

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ARAVA DESERT, Israel --An Israeli company has launched a first-of-its-kind hybrid solar power station.  It is capable of producing what the company calls Green Power 24-7.

For years, Israel has made the desert bloom. But now a new tulip has appeared on the horizon. They call it a power flower.

Deep in the Arava Desert, where temperatures top 100 degrees Farenheit, the Israeli company Aora inaugurated what it says is the world's first hybrid solarized gas turbine power station.

What's unique here is the concept of distributed solar power. What the Aora station can do is, they can bring solar power to locations that don't have literally square miles of empty space. They can bring solar energy to areas where the grids are saturated and can't carry electric power from where it's generated to where it's used.

The power flower station is located at Kibbutz Samar in southern Israel. It consists of a half-acre field of 30 giant heliostats or tracking mirrors. They follow and reflect the sun's rays toward the top of a 30-meter tower -- shaped like a yellow tulip.

Aora director Zev Rosenzweig explained how it works.

"The mirrors focus the sun's energy to what's called a solar window," he said. "That leads into the solar receiver. We run the air through there. The air heats up to about 750 degrees Celsius, and then that's vented into the turbine and spins the turbine.

The energy from the turbine will be fed into the national grid and provide electricty for between 50 and 70 homes.

Pinchas Doron, chief technology officer for Aora said that the system has a number of features that distinguish it from other solar projects. Its hybrid system can use bio-fuels making it environmentally friendly; and the small modular design makes it easy to expand.

"Usually these things are big," Doron said. We went small, so this is a modular unit. The other advantage it's hybrid. It means we can operate it using solar radiation, but when there isn't enough solar radiation or there isn't any solar radiation like at night, we can run it on fuel."

Executives from power companies in Australia, Mexico and Germany came to the recent launch of the site. Other private companies in Chile and Australia have already signed deals to acquire the system.

Robert Annells, director of an Australian geo-thermal company said the Aora system is ideal for Australia's outback.

"This is a perfect system for mines in isolated areas where just to put the power lines in to bring the energy in would be much more than the capital costs here," he explained. "So we see this filling a very valuable role in the mining industry in Australia."

Back in Israel, Aora executives hope an anticipated governmental policy change will make solar energy more feasible in the Holy Land. Interest in the hybrid solar system is high. In the future, they hope to see many more power flowers dotting the landscape.

*Originally published July 3, 2009 

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