In Israel, solar power that won't need subsidies
On Monday, ZenithSolar unveiled a new solar dish that could make the cost of solar energy competitive with fossil fuels.
(Page 2 of 2)
“I did a lot of soul-searching because of the energy crisis. I thought it was crazy that the whole world should be at the beck and call of a small group of countries that have oil, whereas we all have sun,” he says in an interview in the shade. That swayed him to switch over to Ben-Gurion University’s Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, where he is now chairman of the department of Solar Energy and Environmental Physics. Professor Faiman also directs Israel’s National Solar Energy Center.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Faiman’s area of research involves not just harnessing the sun but increasing its intensity. The idea is referred to as CPV – Concentrating Photovoltaics – a technology in which mirrors increase the light incident onto semiconductors, which increases energy output.
“By using mirrors to concentrate the sun’s light, you cut down by 1,000 the amount of photovoltaic material you need, and you’ve essentially opened the door to affordable photovoltaics,” explains the white-bearded professor, a straw hat on his head to protect himself from the afternoon blaze, already strong even on a mild April day. “The beauty of the mirror-based system is that since you have to cool it, you can get 50 percent more energy out of it in the form of hot water.”
He says that after the installation of such a system is paid for – one Z20 would now run about $15,000 a pop – electricity or water-heating costs would be mostly based on maintenance costs, rather than pricey fuel.
“The world is consuming the energy equivalent of 200 million barrels of oil a day,” Faiman says. “If we can reduce that, the environmental footprint will be enormous.... And in 20 years, if we in Israel move in this direction, 60 to 70 percent of our electricity needs will not cost anything, and at that stage, what you pay will be based on the operation and maintenance costs.”
A dig at oil-rich adversaries
ZenithSolar hopes to offer its technology further afield. But can it work everywhere, even in the places without nearly as much sun? Faiman says it can, since the machines track the sun even on a cloudy day, but it might not be cost-effective.
Faiman, who is about to embark on a lecture tour in the US, explains that it would not be worthwhile to open a farm in Illinois or Pennsylvania, he found. But it would work to build one in El Paso, Texas, and then ship the electricity north.
“It turns out that in the case of Texas, it would be thoroughly cost-effective for the amount of sun available there,” he says. “Other states could buy it from Texas and transfer it by cable.”
The very use of the word “farm” to refer to these massive dishes planted in dirt puts a new spin on an old motto about making the desert bloom. As one of Israel’s veteran founders, Israeli President Shimon Peres, spoke at the inaugural ribbon-cutting here, he made a bold prediction that the technology would empower countries that lack oil – Israel among them – and made something of a dig at the countries which have oil.
“Today, terrorism is nourished mainly from those countries that have oil, including Iran,” Mr. Peres said. “Solar energy is democratic and it can change the face of the world.”