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Israel doesn’t produce gas or hydroelectric power, but it does have one asset that could potentially be vital for energy production. CBC’s Peter Armstrong ventured deep into the Negev desert in the South of Israel to check it out. He has this report on a remarkable energy experiment.

Deep in the heart of the Negev Desert there is but one natural resource, the sun beating down scorching the earth. This research facility is trying to harness those relentless rays. “You say this is basically the coming out of solar energy.” “I hope so, I really hope so.” Professor David Faiman has been working for 30 years and finally has found the breakthrough that he’s been waiting for. He’s built a new tiny solar panel that holds unprecedented amounts of heat and transforms it into electricity. Using this dish, essentially a giant mirror, he concentrated the light of a thousand suns onto the new panel. The result was staggering. “So these ones here produce one watt?” “One watt each, yes.” “And this one 1500.” “Yeah, mm-hm.” “Amazing, isn’t it?” What it really means he says is that solar energy can now compete with traditional energy sources on a large scale, building a series of dishes concentrating light onto these tiny panels. Faiman says he would need just 1200 square kilometres to create 1,000 megawatts of energy at competitive costs. “A thousand megawatts is 10% of Israel’s present generating capacity, okay? It’s enough for something like a million people.”

All of this has dramatically changed the landscape of solar energy. Once a bit player, now a realistic viable pollution-free alternative to conventional energy sources. Experts say with projects like this solar energy has truly arrived on the scene. From the quiet of a desolate desert research station to the bustle of an industry working at full capacity, solar energy is big business here. Solel Industries watched sales soar past the $100 million mark last year. Their technology involves using huge concave mirrors to make steam. Just two weeks ago the Israeli company signed a contract to build the world’s biggest solar energy plant in the Mohave Desert in California. More than a million mirrors, 600,000 acres and 550 megawatts of power. Solel won’t disclose exact figures but the solar energy will be sold between 10 and 12 cents per kilowatt hour. Solel’s president and CEO says that falls well within today’s market figures. “Actually after we return the loan for construction of such a plan we are the cheapest power, not competitive.

We are the cheapest power because it costs you a few cents to operate and maintain such a plan. Here in Israel almost all the energy comes from coal fired generators. Scientists say in this land of sun using solar energy designed and built by Israelis is a no brainer. “So we’re actually choking to death with the amount of fossil fuel we’re using. So that’s one reason we need to go solar. And the other reason is that Israel is one of the few countries in the world that has absolutely no natural sources of fuel.” But like most countries in the world Israel has chosen to wait and see.

The fact is solar energy remains untested on a large scale so few politicians are willing to take what they still see as a large financial risk. But Faiman says solar energy has crossed a threshold making it competitive, and a reality politicians can no longer ignore. Peter Armstrong CBC News in the Negev Desert.

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