In the middle of southern Israel’s desert, engineers are hard at work building the world’s tallest solar tower, reflecting the country’s high hopes for renewable energy. Once completed in late 2017, the Ashalim Tower will rise to 240 metres (787ft), taller than Paris’s Montparnasse Tower and London’s Gherkin, according to the Israeli government and the consortium building it. Covered in stainless steel, the square tower in the rocky Negev desert with a peak resembling a giant lighthouse will be visible from dozens of kilometres (miles) away. A field of mirrors covering 300 hectares (740 acres) – the size of more than 400 football pitches – will stretch out from its base, directing sunlight toward the tower’s peak to an area called the boiler, which looks like a giant lightbulb.
The government agreed to move ahead with this technology – even though we do not hide the fact that it is more expensive than traditional electricity production – precisely to achieve lower costs over time.
Eran Gartner, who heads the Megalim consortium managing the project
The boiler, whose temperature will rise to 600 degrees Celsius (1112 Fahrenheit), generates steam that is channelled towards the foot of the tower, where electricity is produced. The construction, costing an estimated €500 million ($570 million), is being financed by US firm General Electric, with France’s Alstom and Israeli private investment fund Noy also involved. Energy from a solar tower is “two to three times more expensive to produce than classic electricity plants using carbon or fuel”, said Eran Gartner, who heads the Megalim consortium managing the project. But Israel could in theory meet all its electricity needs through solar energy by using only four percent of the Negev desert, said Eitan Parnass, head of the Green Energy Association of Israel.
Israel has no choice but to diversify its energy independence, first for reasons of security.
Eitan Parnass, head of the Green Energy Association of Israel