* Most solar power in world generated by panels, not towers
* Study shows power towers not the bird killers once feared
* Solar energy still cannot match fossil fuel prices
By Ari Rabinovitch
ASHALIM, Israel, Feb 15 In a vast expanse of
open desert in southern Israel a 787-foot tower (240 metres) is
taking shape that its builders hope will help make solar energy
much more cost effective.
The tower, being built by Israel-based Megalim Solar Power,
whose shareholders include General Electric, will be
taller than other solar towers, enabling it to generate up to
121 megawatts of power.
Due to be completed late next year at a cost of 3 billion
shekels ($773 million), the facility will provide around 1
percent of Israel's electricity under an agreement with the
Israeli government, which aims for 10 percent of the country's
energy needs to be provided by renewables by 2020.
Most solar power in the world is generated by photovoltaic
(PV) panels, which can be installed anywhere from a roof to a
backyard. In contrast, towers that use concentrated solar power,
known as CSP, require a lot of land and are only cost-efficient
in large-scale projects.
For that reason they have seen limited deployment, and
mainly in the United States and Europe.
Megalim's tower in the Negev desert, which stands out for
miles around, is surrounded by 50,000 computer-controlled
mirrors, to project the sun's rays. They are bigger than in
previous projects and controlled over a dedicated Wifi network,
rather than with expensive cables used in the past, Megalim
The tower is privately funded but when completed the Israeli
government has guaranteed to buy the power from it at an
That means it will be effectively subsidised, but Megalim
says it is working to further reduce costs. Shareholders
including power tower pioneer Brightsource Energy as well as
General Electric, which will provide the turbine, want to
build more such towers around the world.
"We're making strides in efficiency, we're making strides in
compressing the time of construction," said Megalim's Chief
Executive Eran Gartner. "We're going down a learning curve that
will help us to offer solar energy at the most competitive
To narrow the gap with PV panels, which make up 95 percent
of the solar market, the U.S.-based Solar Energy Industries
Association says CSP needs to reduce hardware costs and to twin
its output with an energy storage element that will allow
electricity production at night.
Megalim's tower in Israel will generate heat of up to 540
degrees Celsius (1,000 Fahrenheit), producing steam to drive a
turbine. It will not be able to store energy but has overcome
another problem that beset solar towers - whether or not power
towers were killing large numbers of birds.
When Brightsource built a three-tower facility in Ivanpah,
California in 2013 with local partners, some experts said heat
from its mirrors would incinerate tens of thousands of birds
each year. A public outcry about the issue was in part
responsible for Brightsource cancelling plans to build another
tower complex in California.
An official report, based on findings by biologists and
teams of dogs that combed the Ivanpah facility, documenting and
categorizing every bird death, has since shown the impact to be
Brightsource has come up with new techniques to minimize the
damage, said Joe Desmond, Brightsource's senior vice president
of government affairs and communications.
It sprays vaporized grape skin extract, a mild irritant, and
emits sounds of natural predators near the tower to keep birds
away, he said. It has also developed algorithms to lessen the
convergence of rays from mirrors on standby, so the air does not
get as hot.
(Editing by Susan Fenton)