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Israelis drive world's largest solar plant

A few of SEGS huge spherically shaped mirrors

The Israeli company Solel has helped to build and maintain the largest commercial solar power plant in the world, supplying electricity to hundreds of thousands of households in California. The company will soon participate in an international contract to build a large commercial solar power plant in the Israeli desert.

Ariel photo of the SEGS facilities

In the midst of the Mojave Desert in Southern California lies the largest commercial solar power plant producing around 350MW of electricity, which amounts to about 90% of the current commercial production of solar energy in the world.    

The Solar Electric Generating System (or SEGS) is made out of seven different production units (SEGS III to SEGS IX) occupying a combined space of 1000 acres with 400,000 half spherically shaped mirrors. Each spherical mirror has a diameter of almost 20 feet and hosts a 4 inch diameter specially-insulated tube filled with oil.

Engineers working at the SEGS facility in the Mojave Desert

Each mirror is able to heat the oil to almost 750 degrees Fahrenheit which turn water into steam that drives a turbine and produces electricity. These last stages are similar to those used in conventional power plants thus allowing SEGS to also be operated by gas when sunlight is unavailable during the night or when the solar panels are undergoing maintenance.

Solel was created in 1992 when it purchased most of the of Luz Industries assets, another Israeli company which originally built SEGS. Since then, SEGS has changed hands a number of times and is now owned by FPL Energy, but is still partially maintained and upgraded by Solel.

SEGS mirrors during cleaning from the desert sand and dust

Solel is also currently working on other projects. The air conditioning system installed in Solels facility located in the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh (coincidentally translated as the house of the sun) is operated by a smaller version of the solar power system used by SEGS. Solel has also developed a new device aimed for home use that creates hot water around the clock and is considered superior to most of its main competitors.

Close up look at the SEGS facilities

The largest new project in which Solel may participate is the building of a new large-scale solar power plant in the Israeli Negev desert. Like the Mojave Desert, the Negev is a large area, mostly uninhabited and has ample sunlight all year round. The Israeli government recently announced an international contract for building a 100MW solar power plant to supply the electricity needs of more than 200,000 Israelis living in southern Israel. The plan may eventually allow the creation of a gigantic 500MW power plant making Israel a leader in solar power production.

Iddo Genuth

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