SA could learn lessons from Israel’s 
solar successes

By: Christy van der Merwe

Published: 23 Apr 10

About 90% of domestic residences in Israel make
 use of solar water heating systems, and Israel's National Infrastructure Ministry estimates that it has the highest 
intensity of solar panels for 
water heating, which satisfies some 4% of the country's total energy demand.

This translates into about 
3 000 MW of installed solar water heating capacity.

Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructures Resources Man-agement division head
Z'ev Gross tells Engineering News that this was achieved through regulation, promulgated in 1986, mandating all domestic residences, up to nine storeys high, to make use of solar water heating.

"Regulation is also import
ant for solar water heating in South Africa. It might have to be a differential regulation or roll-out strategy, not applicable 
to everyone at the same time, and supported by additional tools, but it definitely ensures the future."

At the request of the Ministry of National Infrastructures - the Israeli Ministry responsible for regulations regarding construction, drafted the regulations - the policy was put in place in about six months and building 
plans that did not comply were not approved.

The Ministry is now working on a similar system for small-scale wind power for the residential sector, up to about 30 kW. Gross says that there would be a feed-in tariff to incentivise this, as it would not be relevant without it. He adds that the main challenge is planning, as wind turbines are more complicated to erect than solar water heating because they stand upright.

Gross maintains that there is much value in a South Africa- Israel relationship based on 
renewable energy. In addition to products and university collaboration, he says that Israel could avail South Africa of valuable information and methodologies, particularly on how to push various players, from basic research to manufacture.

"It's important to put all 
resources into one goal orient
ated process," he asserts.

There is also the obvious benefit of capacity development from a skills perspective, particularly with regard to engineering and maintenance.

"We have learnt - at our own 
expense - how to develop the methodology and the know-how, and this can be shared through cooperative relationships."

Gross notes that there is significant research taking place in Israel in a number of renewable- energy fields, such as solar water heating, concentrating thermal power, wind, biomass and also, importantly, the information technology (IT) to support these technologies.

He notes that IT solutions have been implemented in solar fields to monitor machine health and track the fields for efficiency, as well as in small wind projects to optimise the flow of electricity.

Gross highlights a novel concentrating solar photovoltaic (PV) 
project undertaken by Israeli company Zenith Solar, at a kibbutz in Yavne, based on research from Ben Gurion University professor David Faiman, and which was launched in April 2009.

The system is said to be cost competitive compared with fossil fuel energy solutions, and it provides almost half the electricity and hot water requirements for the kibbutz's 400 residents.

With 32 dishes in the array, each dish uses mirrors to concentrate the sun's power towards a central PV cell, which significantly increases the efficiency. This process heats the PV cell, which must be cooled in order to continue operating. This is performed by a liquid flowing 
behind the PV cell, which absorbs the heat from the cell and then transfers the heat to water in a 
20 000-ℓ storage tank.

Another interesting demonstration project in Israel's southern Negev desert is a solar hybrid tower power plant, built by the Aora company, and based on technology developed at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science.

The modular plant was launched in June 2009, and is made up of 30 heliostat mirrors that track the sun and direct the rays to a central tulip-shaped tower, which then directs the heat to a 100-kW gas turbine. Making it hybrid has the advantage that the microturbine can be run on solar thermal, biodiesel, natural gas and biogas.

Also located in Israel is Bright
source Industries, a subsidiary of Brightsource Energy - the company which designs, builds, 
finances and operates utility-scale solar power plants in California. Brightsource Industries focuses 
on the concentrating solar power tower technologies, heating 
water instead of gas.

Gross adds that another Israel- based company, Millennium Electric, is also making progress in the PV market, claiming to have mastered optimisation of the 
panels. Gross says that Millen-nium purports to exploit the heat generated on PV panels, which could double their efficiency.

With South Africa's ambition to produce 10 000 GWh of electricity from renewable-energy sources by 2012, collaboration with countries such as Israel, which embrace the renewable-energy agenda, could be beneficial.

Off the back of decades of 
experience in the field of renew-
able energy, the embassy of Israel in South Africa is putting great emphasis on building platforms to enable expertise sharing and technological cooperation between 
Israel and Southern Africa.

"We recognise the strategic 
importance of alternative-energy 
technologies for the economic 
growth and prosperity of the 
region and it has become our main priority for cooperation. We 
believe that international cooper-
ation is essential for keeping Israel's renewable-energy industry at the forefront of the global arena," says Israeli trade attaché
Or Pearl.

The Trade and Economic Office 
of the embassy of Israel has been 
involved in initiatives by the 
Department of Energy, the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the Central Energy Fund 
and other organisations.