Ashalim, Israel.– You don’t have to see it firsthand, but that’s easier said than done. If you drive over rocks and potholes Negev desertIt’s hard not to see it: a piercing lamp lit An austere gray tower with a height of 240 meters. It is visible even from space.
is The Great Sun Tower of AshalimOne of Israel’s tallest structures and, until recently, the World’s tallest solar power plant.
“It’s Like the Sun”Eli Palidi, a shopkeeper from a nearby town, says. “The Second Sun”.
For its supporters, there is the tower An amazing engineering feat, a testament to Israeli solar innovation. For critics, it is An expensive folly that relies on outdated technology by the time it’s launched.
But for the 750 or so residents of Balidi and the nearby town of Ashalim, for which the plant is named, the tower is a more tangible one. It is the backdrop to their lives, frustrations, occasional affections and even pride. It evokes both anger and surprise.
Sometimes it looks like a dystopian skyscraper, looming over the cows and roosters of a dairy across the road. The height of the tower prompts comparisons to the Tower of Babel, its blinding light accompanied by a burning bush. Its base hangs a spaceship, its turret the pinnacle of an imaginary castle.
For some it reminds me of something lord of the rings JRR Tolkien.
“This is the Eye of Sauron.”says Uriya Suued, an engineer who lived in Ashalim until September.
Other times, the tower looks like a gentle giant standing awkwardly on the edge of a group photo. Almost comically, you might forget it’s there until you see it peeking out from behind a garden wall or over swimmers in the village’s outdoor swimming pool.
“Lighthouse Without Sea”Ben, who runs the pool, initiates Malka.
“Sometimes, it’s really beautiful,” notes the region’s mayor, Eran Doran.
“Absolutely worrying,” said Isaac Nir, co-founder of a local seed producer.
Using the energy of the sun, The tower generates enough electricity to power tens of thousands of homes. Completed in 2019, the plant showcases both Israeli solar industry promises misstepsAnd is a case study of the unpredictable challenges that await any country looking to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
The day begins when the tower, dormant at night, the nearby roosters begin their morning song: with the first light of dawn. At that time, the sun’s rays hit the ocean 50,000 mirrors are strategically placed in the hills surrounding the tower. Mirrors reflect rays of light upwards, concentrating them in a gigantic pool of water located inside the tower.
Reflected sunlight creates an intense light that dazzles anyone looking directly at it, Heats water to over 530 degreesturns it into steam. In a process called solar thermal energy, Steam is piped below ground level, spinning turbines to generate electricity.
There are more than 25 similar towers around the world, including China, Spain and the United States, but The United Arab Emirates has only one more.
To its advocates, Ashalim’s tower is a cutting-edge and pioneering initiative that demonstrates the prowess of Israeli solar energy experts.
“I’m so proud of her,” says engineer Israel Crozer, who oversaw the installation and setup of 50,000 mirrors. “It’s a very complex project.”
As part of the initiative, several million dollars were spent on infrastructure in Ashalim. Money came Megalim solar power, the multinational consortium that built and managed the plant. The plan also brought at least 70 new jobs for remote areas And sometimes neglected, boosts its economy, the regional mayor said.
“Good jobs and good wages,” Doran added.
Ashalim, founded in the 70s, is a small town with its own small industries; Some residents run guesthouses for tourists, but most work in nearby towns. It is a Jewish town; Thousands of Bedouin Arabs live nearby, but mostly in impoverished villages, some of which are not officially recognized by the government and are not connected to the national electricity grid.
During the tower’s construction, rumors spread in Ashalim about its potential impact. The children were afraid that the tower would explode. The elders wondered if Gaza militants would attack with rockets. And some worry unnecessarily that it could cause harmful radiation to residents.
“People thought it could cause cancer.” Kindergarten teacher Shachar Lebel says. People joked that we would grow a tail.
All those fears proved unfounded, and some, like Lebel, praised the tower. It became a comforting haven for some residents returning home after long journeys.
But Dissatisfaction persists even among strong supporters of green energy. Many residents migrated to Ashalim to enjoy the impeccable view of the desert. It is a significant stain on the landscape.
“I’m all for clean energy,” Malka said. “But they chose to do it on the road next to town. Maybe they took her a few kilometers into the desert,” he lamented.
The tower constantly kills or burns birds attracted by the light.The villagers explained.
In the broader Israeli discourse, the tower attracted particular criticism Its electricity has become more expensive than electricity generated by other forms of solar technology. Under an agreement sealed in 2014 between the government and the consortium that built the plant, the companies agreed to pay. The construction cost is about 800 million dollars. In return, the government promised to buy electricity from the tower at a rate of about 23 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the Israeli Electricity Authority.
This price was considered reasonable at the time of tender. But during construction, scientists made unexpected advances for the simplest form of solar power: photovoltaic panels that convert sunlight into electricity without the need for glass or water. Y Those improvements have enabled solar panels to generate power for about a fifth of the cost of a solar thermal tower.According to data released by the Israeli government.
In fact, solar panels have become so profitable that Crozer, the engineer who helped build the Ashalim site, left the solar thermal industry and now runs a company focused on panels.
The Israeli government considered cutting its losses and abandoning construction. from the tower and from a nearby project using solar thermal technology. But the authorities backed down The cost of compensating contractors will outweigh the savings.
Israeli economic newspaper, Calculusdescribed the situation as “One of the saddest stories” in Israeli infrastructure history.
Others say the tower’s more expensive power is almost invisible to Israeli citizens because the higher cost is spread among millions of consumers on the national grid.
For Yosef Abramowitz, one of Israel’s leading energy entrepreneurs, the real problem with the Israeli solar industry is that During the climate crisis, it covers a small portion of Israel’s energy needs: Less than a fifth by 2021, According to government records.
“Ashalim is an amazing example of Israeli climate technology innovationsaid Abramowitz, who has led the installation of large solar fields elsewhere in Israel.
“But that is not Israel’s energy story,” he added. “We Are Bad Actors When It Comes to Climate Israel’s Energy Story”.
War Patrick Kingsley