Arava Power unveils Israel’s first solar field


Standing with government ministers, politicians and members of the solar industry, Rosenblatt saw the switch flicked on the 4.95 megawatt (MW) installation at the Kibbutz Ketura, in Israel’s south. Rosenblatt told pv magazine that it was a moment of great significance.

"For Israel, it marked its entry into the world community of utility scale solar and as a company it was tremendous because it’s been a five year adventure to get the right regulations, laws and approvals through to build the field," he said.

The installation is connected to the Israel Electric Company grid and Rosenblatt remarked that, "it is also the first time in Israel’s 63 year history that this company will be buying power from an independent power producer." It will provide power for three kibbutzim – Israeli collective agricultural communities – and installation took nine months. The feed-in tariff (FIT) rate for this first solar field is, as Rosenblatt admitted, "a very healthy price." However, reductions in that rate are expected as photovoltaic prices fall.

The solar installation, called Ketura Sun, comprises of 18,500 Chinese made Suntech solar panels; Siemens was the engineering, procurement and construction firm on the project. Siemens is also a strategic investor in Arava Power. The project cost $20 million and was funded by a loan amounting to 80 percent of that sum, provided by the Bank Hapoalim. Suntech and Siemens representatives attended the opening ceremony and as Rosenblatt told pv magazine, "we effectively had Europe, Asia and Middle East all represented under the same roof."

The Arava Power Company itself has taken five years to realize it’s first utility scale installation and Rosenblatt describes the process of working with various arms of Israeli government as being a "challenge". But, he says that the solar market has stability and certainty looking to the future. "We’re not fighting about whether we’re going to have a market, we’re only fighting about how large that market is going to be and how fast that market will grow."

Arava Power used the unveiling of its first plant to make public a pipeline more than 40 projects worth 400 MW. This represents around two billion dollars of investment, involving a third of the kibbutzim communities in the Negev desert region and five Bedouin solar sites.

The company takes its name from the Arava valley region in Israel’s far south, where their Ketura Sun project is based, that enjoys 2,300 hours of direct sunlight a year. Rainfall occurs only around four times a year, much of the land is not suitable for farming and Rosenblatt describes it as, "the Saudi Arabia of sunlight," ideal for photovoltaic development.

Arava has committed to working with Siemens on 40 MW of its future developments and has also been speaking to other players about their projects. The Negev desert, which is the broader region of which the Arava Valley is one part, is also the home the planned Ashalim solar installation worth 250 MW. The Ashalim installation was initiated by the Israeli government and Arava is not involved in the project.

As dawn breaks on Israel’s utility scale photovoltaic industry, Rosenblatt is understandably positive about the outlook for the sector. "Israel is blessed with an abundance of sunlight and an abundance of open land where that sunlight is, namely the southern area of the country, plus the energy needs are growing at five to eight percent a year: you really are creating a perfect storm in a positive way to get a significant market for solar power."