Aora ?tulip? sprouting concentrating solar energy in Spain

AORA Solar, an Israeli developer of applied ultra-high-temperature concentrated solar power (CSP), launched its second-ever gas-turbine solar thermal power station on Tuesday in the Platforma Solara de Almeria solar research and development park. The park is located in the town of Tabernas, about 35 kilometers north of the oceanfront city of Almeria.

The company’s first plant opened at Kibbutz Samar in the Arava near Eilat in June 2009. In Andalucía, next to a bed of 52 heliostat solar panels that revolve with the sun’s light on two axes, stands a 35-meter tulip-shaped tower. Its petals hold a solar receiver as well as a gas turbine that is based on technology developed at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.

Within the flower’s folded petals, the receiver heats the air to 1,000-degrees Celsius using the incoming sunlight. The heat powers the gas turbine.

Just one of these flowers is able to supply 100 kilowatts of electricity each hour, as well as create 170 kilowatts of heat energy as a byproduct. The heat can be used for other purposes, such as desalination and cooling, according to AORA CEO Zev Rosensweig.

Below the flower at the Andalucía site sits a small diesel fuel tank, which serves as a backup to the system during nightfall or cloudy weather – a feature that means the power plant is always on, he explained.

“The morning was cloudy,” Rosensweig said during a press conference at the Tuesday launch event. “We were the only technology in the park that was able to generate electricity because we are the only hybrid technology that exists here.”

The flower can generate electricity at all times, without interruption, and allows investors to put their money into a single infrastructural investment, he added.

“That investment can function 24 hours a day,” he said. “Thanks to the unpredictable weather that we are experiencing today, it gave us the opportunity to demonstrate this capability very clearly.”

By being able to use the heat byproduct to power other facilities, the system essentially pays for itself, Rosensweig told The Jerusalem Post. For this purpose, AORA will soon be integrating its Andalucía tulip with another company’s desalination plant for six months. After that, the system will be joined with an absorption chiller installation to demonstrate that hot air can create cool air, he said, adding that researchers at the station were constantly testing ways to increase the heat output.

“We are very happy to see how this plant is ready to generate its first kilowatt hours after several months of hard work,” said Diego Martinez, director of Platforma Solara Almeria, noting that the pressurized air technology used at the AORA facility was excellent in both efficiency and its lack of water use.

AORA chief technology officer Pinchas Doron predicted that there would soon be many more of these tulips throughout Spain and around the world, calling the facility “the power flower.”

“Twenty years ago our solar receiver was some idea scribbled in chalk on a blackboard – mind you in chalk – at the Weizmann Institute,” Doron said.

The receiver wasn’t slated to be such an iconic desert sculpture until the AORA executives met with China-based Israeli architect Haim Dotan, whose vision was to create a structure for AORA that would blend into nature.

“I came up with the idea of the flower, and the concept was [that] the sun turns deserts into blooming gardens,” he told the Post after the launch. “You drive by and you see a garden of different heights and colors.”

The stem itself is a simple steel tube, and the petals create the necessary room for the machinery – and all of these are prefabricated and then brought to the site, he explained.

“The flower itself is essentially the iconic messenger of this venture,” Dotan said. “It’s actually working passively as a marketing tool. The whole notion was beauty, reduced construction costs, integration with nature and love.”

AORA is already in talks to establish flowers in other places throughout the world – right now, specifically, in several Mexican villages and downtown Phoenix, Arizona – but Rosensweig said he started with Spain because of its strong renewable energy policies and high feed-in tariffs.

The lack of these benefits back home, as well as an unstable national strategy for generating green energy, are driving Israeli renewable entrepreneurs to take their technology abroad, according to Rosensweig.

“The technology all is flowing out,” he said. “We’re not benefiting from the fruits of the technology – we’re exporting the benefits of domestically held technology.”

Alon Bar, Israeli ambassador to Spain, said he was confident that the growing cooperation between Spain and Israel on green energy would remain positive.