Giant solar plants in Negev could power Israel's future

Payback time for the unlucky, oil-free desert?


DLD08 A series of solar energy power stations in the Negev could supply all of Israel's power needs - or, if you wanted to be really ambitious, you could supply all of the world's electricity needs with the aid of slightly under 10 per cent of the Sahara. So says Professor David Faiman of Israel's Ben-Gurion University, man with a plan and current proprietor of the largest solar energy dish in the world.

The Negev Desert dish is operated by Ben-Gurion's National Solar Energy Center in the Negev, and speaking at the DLD (Digital Life, Design) conference in Munich earlier this week, Center director Faiman tallied off the economics of solar power generation. Conventional solar panels are expensive, because photovoltaic cells, which combine the capability to collect energy and to convert it to electricity, are themselves expensive.

One route to cutting the cost is being pursued by Nanosolar (Nanosolar director of products Roby Stancel was speaking at the same session as Faiman), which is printing the cells onto thin sheets. Taking a different approach, the Negev plant uses large curved glass mirrors to focus sunlight onto a 10cm x 10cm area of cells. Both routes have their advantages - if Nanosolar's price promises are fulfilled, then solar sheets could be cheap enough and thin enough to put anywhere and everywhere, while the dish approach could be applied cost-effectively to large scale power plants, up to and including 10 per cent of the Sahara. "We're effectively reducing the cost of photovoltaic by a factor of 1,000," says Faiman.

Cost has been a major brake on the take-up of solar power, and Faiman points out that solar has only caught on in countries like Germany, where it is subsidised. There, electricity suppliers are obliged to buy in surplus power from domestic solar systems at more than the market rate, which makes solar an attractive option for German consumers, despite Germany being relatively unattractive from the point of view of available sunlight. According a Faiman a German rooftop would produce the equivalent of one barrel of oil over two years, whereas the same roof in the Negev would do it in one.

This favourable economic climate also means that one of Nanosolar's first contracts is for a 1MW solar power station in Eastern Germany.

Faiman explains how solar could fix Israel's power requirements in 1 Gigawatt units. A single 1GW solar plant would be comparable in output to a large conventional power station, and would cost €1 billion to build. One plant would produce 2 Terawatt Hours of electricity every year, which would be enough to cover annual growth in Israel's power demand. With each plant producing the equivalent of €200 million, the first five plants pay for the sixth. Assuming a 30 year lifespan for each plant, in year 29 you have to start building two per year (unless, presumably, you think you've got enough electricity by then, or you've run out of customers and/or desert).

"This works after a fashion anywhere except Antarctica," says Faiman.

The amount of space the plants take up will depend on the efficiency of the cells - Faiman sees cells of 60 per cent efficiency being feasible, and it ultimately being possible to build 1GW plants on 5 km. sq. apiece.

Gotchas? Solar doesn't work at night, and Faiman concedes that storage of energy is therefore an issue. But if, say, you had a country that was switching over to electric cars, then much of the power for transportation would effectively be stored in batteries. Faiman also suggests that solar power could be used to split seawater into oxygen and hydrogen, giving you a supply of clean and portable fuel. This possibly presents a snag for anybody planning Sahara plant, but hey, Libya has a coastline and seawater, and Gaddafi's on our side now, right? ®


Other stories you might like

  • Assange can go to UK Supreme Court (again) to fend off US extradition bid

    Top Brit judges may consider whether an American prison is just too much

    Julian Assange has won a technical victory in his ongoing battle against extradition from the UK to the United States, buying him a few more months in the relative safety of Her Majesty's Prison Belmarsh.

    Today at London's High Court, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Lord Burnett approved a question on a technical point of law, having refused Assange immediate permission to appeal to the UK Supreme Court. The WikiLeaker's lawyers had asked for formal permission to pose this legal conundrum about Assange's likely treatment in US prisons to the Supreme Court:

    Continue reading
  • They see us Cinnamon Rolling, they're rating: GeckoLinux incorporates kernel 5.16 with familiar installation experience

    A nice, clean community distro that works well

    Most distros haven't got to 5.15 yet, but openSUSE's downstream project GeckoLinux boasts 5.16 of the Linux kernel and the latest Cinnamon desktop environment.

    Some of the big-name distros have lots of downstream projects. Debian has been around for decades so has umpteen, including Ubuntu, which has dozens of its own, including Linux Mint, which is arguably more popular a desktop than its parent. Some have only a few, such as Fedora. As far as we know, openSUSE has just the one – GeckoLinux.

    The SUSE-sponsored community distro has two main editions, the stable Leap, which has a slow-moving release cycle synched with the commercial SUSE Linux Enterprise; and Tumbleweed, its rolling-release distro, which gets substantial updates pretty much every day. GeckoLinux does its own editions of both: its remix of Leap is called "GeckoLinux Static", and its remix of Tumbleweed is called "GeckoLinux Rolling".

    Continue reading
  • Running Windows 10? Microsoft is preparing to fire up the update engines

    Winter Windows Is Coming

    It's coming. Microsoft is preparing to start shoveling the latest version of Windows 10 down the throats of refuseniks still clinging to older incarnations.

    The Windows Update team gave the heads-up through its Twitter orifice last week. Windows 10 2004 was already on its last gasp, have had support terminated in December. 20H2, on the other hand, should be good to go until May this year.

    Continue reading
  • Throw away your Ethernet cables* because MediaTek says Wi-Fi 7 will replace them

    *Don't do this

    MediaTek claims to have given the world's first live demo of Wi-Fi 7, and said that the upcoming wireless technology will be able to challenge wired Ethernet for high-bandwidth applications, once available.

    The fabless Taiwanese chip firm said it is currently showcasing two Wi-Fi 7 demos to key customers and industry collaborators, in order to demonstrate the technology's super-fast speeds and low latency transmission.

    Based on the IEEE 802.11be standard, the draft version of which was published last year, Wi-Fi 7 is expected to provide speeds several times faster than Wi-Fi 6 kit, offering connections of at least 30Gbps and possibly up to 40Gbps.

    Continue reading
  • Windows box won't boot? SystemRescue 9 may help

    An ISO image you can burn or drop onto a USB key

    The latest version of an old friend of the jobbing support bod has delivered a new kernel to help with fixing Microsoft's finest.

    It used to be called the System Rescue CD, but who uses CDs any more? Enter SystemRescue, an ISO image that you can burn, or just drop onto your Ventoy USB key, and which may help you to fix a borked Windows box. Or a borked Linux box, come to that.

    SystemRescue 9 includes Linux kernel 5.15 and a minimal Xfce 4.16 desktop (which isn't loaded by default). There is a modest selection of GUI tools: Firefox, VNC and RDP clients and servers, and various connectivity tools – SSH, FTP, IRC. There's also some security-related stuff such as Yubikey setup, KeePass, token management, and so on. The main course is a bunch of the usual Linux tools for partitioning, formatting, copying, and imaging disks. You can check SMART status, mount LVM volumes, rsync files, and other handy stuff.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022