Photovoltaic arrays at the Israel National Solar Energy Center

The Negev Desert is home to the Israeli solar research industry, in particular the National Solar Energy Center and the Arava Valley, the sunniest region of Israel

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Solar power in Israel refers to the use of solar energy in Israel, which began in the early days of the state. In the 1950s, Levi Yissar developed a solar water heater to address the energy shortages that plagued the new country. By 1967 around one in twenty households heated its water with the sun and 50,000 solar heaters had been sold. With the 1970s oil crisisHarry Zvi Tabor, the father of Israel’s solar industry, developed the prototype of the solar water heater now used in over 90% of Israeli homes. Israeli engineers are at the cutting edge of solar energy technology and its solar companies work on projects around the world.[4]


With no oil reserves and the country’s tenuous relations with its oil-rich neighbors, the search for a stable source of energy is a national priority. Solar technology in Israel has advanced to the point where it is almost cost-competitive with fossil fuels. The high annual incidence of sunshine in the Negev Desert has spurred an internationally renowned solar research and development industry. At the end of 2008, a feed-in tariff scheme was approved which has led to many residential and commercial solar energy power station projects.

Israel’s goal is to produce ten percent of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2020.

In 1949, prime minister David Ben-Gurion offered Harry Zvi Tabor a job on the ‘physics and engineering desk’ of the Research Council of Israel, which he accepted. His first task was to create an Israeli national laboratory to create standards amongst the different measurements in use in the country, primarily BritishOttoman and metric. Once the laboratory was established, he focused on solar energy for research and development.

Solar energy was particularly attractive for two reasons. First was the abundance and strength of the sun’s rays on Israeli land. Israel’s geographic latitude location is on the 30th parallel north, where the annual incident solar irradiance is 2000 kWh per sq.m. Second, Israeli land lacks oil, and the conflicts with its neighbors made the procurement of a stable source of energy a national priority. In particular, it is argued that the best defense against missile attack felling the national power grid would be to build a distributed power network, which would mean solar fields of 25–50 megawatts across Israel.

Early in the 1950s, Tabor began to examine why solar installations were inefficient. He eventually devised ‘selective black surfaces’, which his team at the National Physical Laboratory modified using nickel and chrome methods to blacken metals. These surfaces, which became known as Tabor surfaces, are particularly effective at trapping heat for use in solar water heaters.

Tabor and French immigrant Lucien Bronicki developed a small solar power unit, the Organic Rankine cycle turbine, for developing countries with problematic power grids. It was designed to neutralize the maintenance issues of reciprocating engines so it had only one moving part, the rotor. A 3 kWe prototype was exhibited at the 1961 United Nations Conference on New Sources of Energy in Rome, but it failed to find commercial success.

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Dead Sea Solar pond

In 1965, Lucien Bronicki established Ormat Industries to commercialize the Organic Rankine cycle turbine concept. In the 1970s and 1980s Ormat built and operated one of the world’s first power stations to produce electricity from solar energy; the plant was located just north of the Dead Sea in Israel.

The plant utilised a technology known as the solar pond, a large-scale solar thermal energy collector with integral heat storage for supplying thermal energy. It was the largest operating solar pond ever built for electricity generation and operated up until 1988. It had an area of 210,000 m² and gave an electrical output of 5 MW.

Solar water heaters

Solar water heater on a rooftop in Jerusalem

In the 1950s there was a fuel shortage in the new Israeli state, and the government forbade heating water between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. As the situation worsened, engineer Levi Yissar proposed that instead of the construction of more electrical generation plants, homes should switch to solar water heaters. He built a prototype in his home, and in 1953 he started NerYah Company, Israel’s first commercial manufacturer of solar water heaters. By 1967 around one in twenty households heated its water with the sun and 50,000 solar heaters had been sold. However, cheap oil from Iran and from oil fields captured in the Six-Day War made Israeli electricity cheaper and the demand for solar heaters dropped. After the energy crisis in the 1970s, in 1980 the Israeli Knesset passed a law requiring the installation of solar water heaters in all new homes (except high towers with insufficient roof area). As a result, Israel is now the world leader in the use of solar energy per capita (3% of the primary national energy consumption).

As of the early 1990s, all new residential buildings were required by the government to install solar water-heating systems, and Israel’s National Infrastructure Ministry estimates that solar panels for water-heating satisfy 4% of the country’s total energy demand. Israel and Cyprus are the per-capita leaders in the use of solar hot water systems with over 90% of homes using them.

The Ministry of National Infrastructures estimates solar water heating saves Israel 2 million barrels (320,000 m3) of oil a year.

On June 2, 2008 the Israeli Public Utility Authority approved a feed-in tariff for solar plants. The tariff is limited to a total installation of 50MW during 7 years, whichever is reached first, with a maximum of 15 kWp installation for residential and a maximum of 50kWp for commercial. The National Infrastructures Ministry announced on December 2009 on expanding the feed-in tariff scheme to include medium-sized solar-power stations ranging from 50 kilowatts to 5 megawatts, though only one project was approved by June 2010.


The Grand Technion Energy Program (GTEP)

Multidisciplinary scientists at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology are pooling resources at GTEP to advance the science behind solar power.


Nano science and solar energy

With its strong basis in nanotechnology and science, GTEP is pioneering the field of nano-energy.

  • Efrat Lifshitz discovered that nano-sized materials consisting of nanocrystal quantum dots can absorb sunlight not only in the visible range, as materials currently used in solar panels do, but also in the infrared and UV ranges. This makes them ideal in photovoltaic cells used to turn sunlight into electricity, promising much more efficient solar power.
  • Nir Tessler leads a group on organic photovoltaic material.
  • Gitti Frey specializes in organic electronics – plastic electronics that are functional electronically and optically. They emit light and can transmit electrical signals, or absorb light and generate energy such as electricity. Frey introduces whole new properties in this field, creating effective and useful self-organizing structures on the nano-scale. Frey is working on a solar cell to convert sunlight into electrical energy. She predicts this research will lead to solar-power systems which are cheaper, unbreakable, flexible, more aesthetic and versatile.


National Solar Energy Center

The world’s largest solar energy dish is located at Ben Gurion National Solar Energy Center

The National Solar Energy Center was founded in 1987 by the Ministry of National Infrastructures, and is part of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. In 2007, David Faiman, the Center’s director, announced that the Center had entered into a project with Zenith Solar to create a home solar energy system that uses a 10-square meter reflector dish.[21] In testing, the concentrated solar technology proved to be up to five times more efficient than standard flat photovoltaic silicon panels, which would make it almost as cheap as oil and natural gas. A prototype ready for commercialization achieved a concentration of solar energy that was more than 1,000 times greater than that from standard flat panels. According to Faiman, who led the Israeli team that developed the technology, 10% of Israel’s population (1,000 megawatts) could live on the energy from 12 square kilometres of land.

Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research

The Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research facility was founded by Amos Richmond, and its faculty is part of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. It has a solar energy research program that has assisted in the development of passive heating, involving the mitigation of extremes of heat and cold in the desert through efficient storage from day to nighttime. One research project is an inhabited adobe house with rational fenestrationPrisms that transmit heat during the day are installed in the room and can be rotated to allow the heat to discharge at night.

There is a double-skin greenhouse that uses copper sulfate solution as a heat screen during the day. The liquid is pumped between the two skins, protects the interior from ultraviolet rays, and collects heat. At night the liquid is recirculated, returning the heat to the greenhouse.

Weizmann Institute Solar Research Facilities Unit

In addition to a solar reactor, the solar research facilities of the Weizmann Institute of Science are among the most advanced laboratories in the world for concentrated solar energy research. They have tested solar technology in the production of hydrogen fuel, which has been successfully trialled on a large scale. Tareq Abu-Hamed, an Israeli scientist at the University of Minnesota, with colleagues Jacob Karni and Michael Epstein, head of the Solar Facility at Weizmann, were the developers of a new method to produce hydrogen fuel more cheaply, efficiently and safely while solving storage and transportation issues.

Other innovations include harnessing sunlight for space communications and meteorological information; controlling light-dependent chemical reactions; and developing photodynamic cancer therapy.

The Negev

Solar troughs in the Negev

The Negev Desert and the surrounding area, including the Arava Valley, are the sunniest parts of Israel and little of this land is arable, which is why it has become the center of the Israeli solar industry.  David Faiman thinks the energy needs of Israel’s future could be met by building solar energy plants in the Negev. As director of Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center, he operates one of the largest solar dishes in the world.

A 250 MW solar park in Ashalim, an area in the northern Negev, was in the planning stages for over five years, but is not expected to produce power before 2013. In 2008, a government tender was prepared on three solar power plants near the city; two thermal and one photovoltaic. The fields have not begun construction so far.

In the Rotem Industrial Complex outside of Dimona, Israel, more than 1,600 solar mirrors focus the sun’s rays on a tower to heat a water boiler to create steam. BrightSource Industries (Israel), Ltd., uses the solar array to test new technology for the three new solar plants to be built in California for Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Southern California Edison.

Farming and kibbutzim

Solar panels installed on residential housing in Israel

Israel’s first solar power station opened in August 2008. Moshe Tenne built the 50 KW plant on his Negev farm for NIS 1.3 million, and he expects to earn NIS 220,000 a year from selling excess electricity to the national power grid. After the National Infrastructures Ministry announced it would expand its feed-in tariff scheme to include medium-sized solar-power stations ranging from 50 kilowatts to 5 megawatts, Sunday Solar Energy announced that it would invest $133 million in photovoltaic solar arrays for installation on kibbutzim. In December 2008, the Sunday company announced thatKibbutz Reim in the western Negev would be the first community in the world to rely entirely on solar energy. The Reim installation, costing NIS60-100 million, would generate at least 2.5 megawatts during peak consumption. Excess energy would be sold to the Israel Electric Company. The investment is expected to pay for itself in 10 years, and the costs and revenues will be divided evenly between the kibbutz and Sunday.

Arava Power Company

Ketura solar field, 2012

Ketura Sun is Israel’s first commercial solar field. Built in early 2011 by the Arava Power Company on Kibbutz Ketura, Ketura Sun covers twenty acres and is expected to produce green energy amounting to 4.95 megawatts. The field consists of 18,500 photovoltaic panels made by Suntech, which will produce about 9 gigawatt-hours of electricity per year. In the next twenty years, the field will spare the production of some 125,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. The field was inaugurated on June 15, 2011.

On May 22, 2012 Arava Power Company announced that it had reached financial close on an additional 58.5 MW for 8 projects to be built in the Arava and the Negev valued at 780 million NIS or approximately $204 million. APC President and Co-Founder Yosef Abramowitz stated, “Our work is not yet done. Israel needs to adopt the European Union goal of 20 percent renewables by 2020 and this major milestone by Arava Power is proof positive that it can be reached. Furthermore, an injustice must be corrected by creating a special quota of solar fields for Bedouin land owners, who are locked out of the current solar program.”

Additionally, the Arava Power Company has signed multiple agreements with Bedouin families in the Negev desert to build solar fields on approximately 92 acres of land, with a production capability of up to 20 megawatts. APC has been lobbying the Israeli government to create separate solar caps for Bedouins.

On February 7, 2012, Arava Power announced that it had received a license for the Tarabin Solar Field, the first solar field for the Bedouin community. Financing for the $30 million Tarabin installation is to be provided by OPIC – the Overseas Private Investment Corporation of the United States Government. Arava Power President Yosef Abramowitz sees solar power for the Bedouin as a positive example for Native Americans, First Nations, Aboriginals and others with historic land claims.

Carmey Avdat Winery

Sunday Solar Energy was commissioned to build a solar installation for the Carmey Avdat winery in the Negev Desert. The 50 kW peak installation covers the 200-square meter roof of the winery and provides 65 percent of its annual energy needs. Kibbutz Samar

The Aora’s Solar “Flower” Tower is the world’s first solar hybrid power plant, comprising 30 heliostat solar reflectors. The plant switches to natural gas-powered turbines after dark so that it can continue producing power 24 hours a day.


Solel testing site in the Negev


Israel’s Special Relationship with the Solar Water Heater (By reuters)

Using the power of the sun to heat your water is one of the simplest ways that you can make your home more energy efficient. Heating water usually accounts for 40 percent of an average family’s monthly energy costs. Converting to inexpensive solar thermal water heating is a great first step that will not only allow us to utilize a much more clean, affordable and sustainable source of energy, it will also create jobs and help our nation to become more energy independent.

Necessity is the Jewish Mother of Invention

Solar power has been a top priority for Israel since the founding of the nation; solar energy ordinances have been in place there since 1980. Israel was the first country to make solar thermal mandatory in all of its new residential buildings. The plan was to reduce the country’s dependence on imported energy, since the country has no oil reserves, but sunshine is abundant.

According to a study by the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation, today Israel’s extensive network of solar heating systems provides over 8 percent of the country’s energy. A combination of economies of scale, coupled with the widespread awareness and education has led to tremendous cost reductions for solar power in Israel; the average time that it takes there for the energy savings to pay for the cost of solar installations is only about three years.

These days solar thermal water heating systems are just a normal component of almost every household in the nation. Nearly 90 percent of all Israeli households use solar thermal energy to heat their water, and many building are entirely powered by the sun.

The arid country is not only a world leader in solar thermal energy use, but also in water recycling and clean technology. Relative to its small size, Israel has invested more of its resources into waste water treatment and reclamation research than any other country in the world. A whopping 70 percent of its used water is now recycled.

All of these many innovations have made the country one of the foremost leaders in sustainable energy, and prove that clean energy is not only viable, but necessary. However, as energy and heating prices continue to soar, Israel’s many inspiring progressive clean energy accomplishments also demonstrate just how very far behind we are here in the United States. Our nation must invest in creating a vibrant solar energy network now; it just makes sense.


Written : admin