The system is jointly funded by Chinese and Israeli entrepreneurs.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony took place on Tuesday at the Rotem Industrial Park, some 160 km. south of Jerusalem, in the presence of Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau, Chinese Ambassador Gao Yanping and a delegation from China that included Yun Xishun, the governor of western Inner Mongolian province Alashan.
The investors in HelioFocus, which was established in 2007, are the Israel Corporation’s IC Green Energy and the Sanhua Holding Group’s Zhejiang Sanhua Company.
On Monday, HelioFocus signed an agreement with Sanhua to begin construction in 2013 on a 10-megawatt concentrated solar power facility in Inner Mongolia, for the Chinese energy company TaiQing. The facility, which will eventually expand to 60 megawatts, will back up a 600-megawatt coalfired power plant.
“I believe that with the collaboration with the Chinese market, which has accelerated in the past years, the company will produce facilities for the Chinese electricity market and for many other locations worldwide,” Landau said at Tuesday’s ceremony.
Sparkling against the glare of the desert sun, parabolic dish concentrators capture the light and create temperatures of up to 650 degrees Celsius, then channel the radiation to a receiver above that heats the air.
Through pipes, the air then moves to a central heat exchange system that in turn produces hot steam, which can drive a power plant turbine.
The technology can be used as a support system for coalor oil-fired power plants, eliminating the need for natural gas or diesel generator backup systems, explained Eli Mandelberg, executive vice president of HelioFocus.
While other solar thermal systems exist similar in concept to this one, with panels feeding heat to a receiver above, the unique aspect of the HelioFocus system is its ability to heat the air to extremely high temperatures – much higher than in other systems, according to Mandelberg.
They are able to do this because of their higher concentration ratio – the aperture of the mirrors divided by the aperture of the receiver – which leads to higher temperatures, he said. With this higher temperature and higher concentration ration, heat loss is reduced.
Also, the space required for one unit is quite small – about 500 square meters – in comparison to other solar thermal systems, Mandelberg said.
The unit at Rotem can produce 360 kilowatts of heat exchange through steam, which produces about 130 kilowatts of useable electricity.
Per one megawatt installed in Israel, such a system can produce about 2,500 megawatt hours of electricity per year, he explained.
While the demonstration facility’s launch is encouraging, hard work still lies ahead for HelioFocus, acknowledged Dr. Yom Tov Samia, who is chairman of the board of HelioFocus, as well as CEO and president of IC Green Energy.
“The real challenges are ahead, to convert successful technology to a successful commercial size,” Samia said.
Landau praised the technology, initially developed at the Weizmann Institute of Science, which had also received startup funding from his ministry’s chief scientist’s office. The system facilitates the public’s right to receive green electricity, something that should be available “as much as possible, wherever possible, at the lowest possible price,” he said.
Following the ceremony, Landau told journalists that the Public Utility Authority is examining green groups’ idea to increase the solar rooftop quotas for this summer, to help cope with the expected power shortages. His preference is to bring forward the rooftop quota allocated for 2014 to this year, something that will be discussed in this Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
Returning to the HelioFocus launch, the minister said he hoped that many more entrepreneurial initiatives like this one would occur, and that many of them would take place with Chinese partnerships.
The Chinese ambassador, Gao Yanping, agreed.
“There are great opportunities for Chinese and Israeli entrepreneurs,” she said.
“Israel is world famous for its hi-tech innovation, in particularly in terms of great technology.
And China is very famous for our big market, as well as very qualified human resources. That means our economy is very much complementary [to Israel’s].”
Chinese-Jewish relations go back 1,000 years, when Jews were even part of the Chinese government, and continued to be strong during the Holocaust period, when many Chinese cities welcomed European Jews, Gao said.
“All this history gives us a very solid foundation for our friendship and cooperation,” she said. “Cooperation like this will certainly bring a win-win situation for our two countries, in which China will benefit with solar power energy while Israel will benefit with market potential in China.”
“Let the fruits of solar thermal power technology grow in the vast deserts of both Israel and China, giving hope to the new energy revolution and the new energy industry,” said Zhang Daocai, chairman and president of Sanhua Holding Group.