Israeli firm to build worlds largest solar power park

An Israeli company will build what is being called the world’s largest solar-energy park in California’s Mojave Desert.

Solel Solar Systems will construct the Mojave Solar Park, due for completion in 2011. It will be capable of generating 553 megawatts of solar thermal power, enough to supply 400,000 homes in central and northern California. Pacific Gas & Electric, headquartered in San Francisco, has signed a 25-year agreement to purchase energy from the park.

Solel will build an array of 1.2 million parabolic mirrors and 317 miles of vacuum tubing to concentrate the sun’s energy onto thermal receivers. The receivers contain a fluid that is heated and circulated to generate steam. That steam powers a turbine to produce electricity, which can be delivered to the utility’s electric grid.

Project leader David Saul, Solel’s chief operating officer, described the venture as “a landmark …

“California is very successful in terms of being ahead of the rest of the nation and getting on clean and renewable energy.”

The $2 billion Mojave Solar Park will cover nine square miles in the Mojave Desert. The partnership is part of PG&E’s goal to supply 20 percent of customers’ energy needs with clean energy by 2010, and 33 percent by 2020. PG&E currently supplies 12 percent of its energy from qualifying renewable sources under California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) program.

The American-born Saul, a graduate of U.C. Berkeley, started his career in Silicon Valley and moved to Israel in 1983.

He said Solel will design and manufacture the components at its plant in Bet Shemesh, west of Jerusalem, and will be responsible for development of the park. Solel’s primary development office will be in Los Angeles.

The technology was developed by another Israeli company, Luz, which built nine solar power plants in the Mojave Desert between 1984 and 1991. Luz went bankrupt in the early 1990s, but the plants are still operational and recently were upgraded by Solel.

In Israel, the installation of solar water-heating systems on practically all homes and buildings is mandatory, but there are no solar parks on a scale of the Mojave project.

“Israel has been recognized as the center for solar thermal electric technology,” said Saul. “We’re trying to help build up [Israel} economically, bringing more good jobs into Israel, thereby being able to take the technology further.”

J. staff writer Dan Pine contributed to this report.

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent