Everybody knows that China is the world leader in cheap solar. By contrast, Israel has barely begun to tap the global solar market. Yet the world’s largest solar panel producer in China, Suntech, has invited Israel’s state-owned electric utility, Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) – which has no experience in solar power at all – to build three photovoltaic solar energy arrays in northern China, as part of a project worth $US 1.3 billion dollars.
IEC maintains and operates all of the power generation stations, sub-stations and transmission and distribution networks throughout Israel. All coal or gas. It has no solar projects under development. The project would be IEC’s most ambitious development overseas and its first ever solar PV power station. According to energy China Forum, the three solar arrays will total 240 MW, which is about the size of many coal plants. So… why IEC?
Despite an abundance of homegrown renewable engineering and innovation talent – from the pioneer of piezo-electricity to the solar window (Pythagoras Solar Wins a GE Ecomagination Challenge Award), that has attracted VC funders from Silicon Valley to GE (Israeli Companies Winners in GE Green Innovation Marathon) to invest in Israeli innovation, Israel has remained largely dependent upon fossil fuels for its electricity.
The panels will be produced by Suntech, the world’s largest solar panel producer. Yet, according to the IEC’s vice president Yakov Hain, who visited China for talks with Suntech in April, Suntech may be interested in financing research and development, as well as joint projects with IEC.
Hain said IEC and Suntech may develop a joint R&D team to investigate methods of raising the efficiency of solar panels, pointing out that the current average energy output rate of 19 percent is “rather low.”
IEC is studying ways of boosting the electric output efficiency to at least 40 percent, according to Hain. What? How can a coal power plant operator help the world’s leading PV panel maker increase PV efficiency? Isn’t this like selling coals to Newcastle?
If the solar project were solar thermal, not solar PV, then IEC’s long experience with coal-fired, and now, gas-fired, electric power plants could be directly useful, and indeed, might well translate into increases in efficiency, because, solar thermal power ultimately makes steam to drive a turbine (to make electricity) just like coal and gas.
However, Suntech makes solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, and PV simply makes electricity directly. Solar PV panels don’t need turbines, so they don’t need steam or heat to turn turbines to make electricity. IEC’s steam power experience with coal and gas would be relevant only if the project was steam-powered solar.
So why is China’s leading solar panel producer looking overseas, to Israel, and to a coal utility, to form a joint project to raise the efficiency of solar?
China may be the world leader in solar panel production, but Israel is an innovation leader. The IEC may be running on coal and gas now, but its Technology Innovation Center is devoted to some extremely innovative and green clean tech.
IEC’s Technology Innovation Center is developing Israel’s large and untapped engineering genius pool of “entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors, and other pioneers” who dare to break “technology glass ceilings.”
“We can use our creative minds and their experience to develop new equipment based on new materials,” says Yakov Hain.
— Susan Kraemer
This post originally appeared on the Green Prophet blog and was republished with permission.