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Photo: Negev Power

Israel uses solar in plan to gain energy independence

Israel is hoping to become a world leader in per capita net energy produced by renewable means. The country of almost 9 million officially marked the starting of operations of the nation’s largest renewable energy project — a 121 megawatt thermal solar power plant in the Negev desert. The project is key to Israel’s goal of generating 10 percent of its power from renewable energy sources by 2020.

The inauguration of the Negev Energy plant at Ashalim was held in the presence of Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and US-Israeli businessman Naty Saidoff, who last year took control of Shikun & Binui, a construction firm that is one of the main players behind the mega project.

The plant started production in April and is operating at 95% of its full capacity. It will supply electricity to some 70,000 households.

“We are creating electricity from the Israeli sun,” Steinitz said at the ceremony.

Israel will likely reach the 10% target set for 2020, he said, and has already set a new target of 17% of electricity generated by renewable energy by 2030, while also mulling increasing that target even further.

In the past, Steinitz said, the main purpose in Israel was to attain energy security as a requirement because of the neighborhood in which it exists. Ninety-five percent of the renewable energy in Israel comes from solar power, he said.

Israel’s forefathers were promised “a land of milk and honey,” Shikun & Binui’s controlling shareholder Saidoff said at the event. They found instead “only desert and swampland. They dried up the swamps and took the arid area and turned it into a resource.”

“Israel has turned salt water into water” Saidoff said, referring to the desalination plants that have been set up in the country. “And now it has taken the sun, and turned a curse into a blessing. People turning on their air-conditioners in Tel Aviv get the power to cool themselves from the desert sun.”

The Negev Energy project at Ashalim is part of three plots of desert land that have been earmarked for the production of solar energy, with a fourth planned for the future.

Each of these plots use a different solar technology. Together, the fields are Israel’s largest renewable energy project, set to generate some 310 megawatts of power, about 1.6% of the country’s energy needs — enough for about 130,000 households, or roughly 5% of Israel’s population, according to the Israel Electricity Authority.

Eran Doron, the mayor of the Ramat HaNegev Regional Council, said that the contribution the plant has had on the region, providing jobs to locals, both Jews, Muslims and Bedouin, and relocating some 140 engineers and technicians to the area, cannot be measured, he said.

“They say thermal solar energy is not relevant, but it is too early to say,” he added. “We are producing here energy till midnight.”

At the height of the construction work, some 1,300 employees worked at the plant, officials said, with some 300 coming from the local Bedouin community, who underwent training for the job. The plant today employs 70 workers.

–Metro Voice and wire services