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In Israel, solar power that won't need subsidies

On Monday, ZenithSolar unveiled a new solar dish that could make the cost of solar energy competitive with fossil fuels.

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ZenithSolar's rotating dishes can harness up to 75 percent of incoming sunlight, roughly five times the capacity of traditional photovoltaic cells.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP

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In a country that ranks among the world’s highest for average number of sunny days per year, solar energy has long been seen as a key natural resource here.

All the more fitting that on the eve of its Independence Day Israel launched what it said was the first solar farm of its kind, billed as a breakthrough that will make it affordable to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

The technology, a system of rotating dishes made up of mirrors, is capable of harnessing up to 75 percent of incoming sunlight – roughly five times the capacity of traditional solar panels. In addition, using mirrors to reduce the number of photovoltaic cells needed, it makes the cost of solar energy roughly comparable to fossil fuels.

While this technology has been implemented elsewhere, Israeli start-up ZenithSolar – working in conjunction with Israel’s Ben-Gurion University – is a pioneer in combining it with a water-based cooling system that increases the photovoltaic cells’ efficiency and produces thermal energy to boot.

“We’re the first to develop a cogeneration machine which will harness sunlight to produce thermal energy together with electrical energy at the same time,” said Roy Segev, founder and CEO of ZenithSolar, at a launch party Monday at this kibbutz, or communal agricultural settlement, located on Israel’s coastal plain east of Ashdod. This flagship plot of 16 dishes known as “Z20”s – which look like semiflattened satellite dishes with the texture of a disco ball – will generate about half of the total energy needs of this community of some 200 families.

 

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