LOS ANGELES (JTA) – An Israeli company will build what is being called the world’s largest solar energy park in Southern California’s Mojave Desert.
The $2 billion project will supply enough electricity to power 400,000 homes in central and northern California.
The Mojave Solar Park is expected to be completed in 2011.
On July 25, Israel’s Solel Solar Systems and California’s Pacific Gas and Electric public utility signed a 25-year contract.
Project leader David Saul, Solel’s chief operating officer, described the venture as “a landmark” and “the largest solar project built to date” in a phone interview during his brief visit to San Francisco.
California state agencies must still approve the solar park, but Pacific Gas & Electric and Solel spokespeople said they were confident because state regulations mandate that at least 20 percent of electricity provided by public utilities must be based on renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind, by 2010.
The solar park will stretch over 6,000 acres or nine square miles, use 1.2 million mirrors and 317 miles of vacuum tubing to harness the power of the desert sun, and deliver 553 megawatts of clean energy.
The American-born Saul, a graduate of the University of California Berkeley, started his career in Silicon Valley and moved to Israel in 1983.
He said Solel will design and manufacture the components at its plant in Bet Shemesh, west of Jerusalem, and will be responsible for the development of the park along with a number of American firms. Solel’s primary development office will be in Los Angeles.
Solel will use its patented technology in which rows of trough-like mirrors heat a special fluid that generates steam, which powers turbines that generate electricity to be transmitted to Pacific Gas & Electric’s grid.
The technology was developed by another Israeli company, Luz, which built nine solar power plants in the Mojave Desert between 1984 and 1991. Luz went bankrupt in the early 1990s, but the plants are still operational and recently were upgraded by Solel.
Solel, the world’s largest solar thermal company, is also building a large solar park in southern Spain.
In Israel, the installation of solar water heating systems on practically all homes and buildings is mandatory, but there are no solar parks on a scale of the Mojave project. Critics in Israel blame that on bureaucratic roadblocks.
The Israeli government recently announced plans for a solar plant near Dimona in the Negev Desert.