Clean energy from 'most polluted place in Israel'

pv magazine’s Max Hall spent a month in Israel examining solar prospects on both sides of the security fence. As part of his visit, Max was given a tour of Israel’s first large-scale, grid-connected solar project and saw how the methods used to install panels on top of a former chemical waste site could have implications for badly-polluted sites all over the world.

Case study: Ne’ot Hovav

The difficulties of developing a solar project on ‘the most polluted place in Israel‘ had already proven sufficient to deter Spanish developer Solaire Group, which won the tender to build Israel’s first grid-connected large-scale solar scheme.

With Solaire having won the tender but unable to close on the project, Israeli developer Energix stepped in and reached financial close on the 37.5 MW, NIS370 million ($95 million) installation with Deutsche Bank.

The Ne’ot Hovav site is based in the local industrial council of the same name, in Israel’s northern desert. One of two Israeli municipalities without any residents, the area is a large industrial park occupied by several chemicals giants.

Before the government stepped in and forced the chemicals companies to spend NIS1.5 billion ($388 million) to each provide a separate pool for their waste, there was just one, huge, chemical waste sink at the site.

"Companies pooled all the waste materials in one pool and the resulting chemical reactions caused an horrible smell that reached as far as Be’er Sheva," said Asi Levinger, CEO of Ne’ot Hovav developer Energix.

Substation complication

It was the prospect of developing a 480,000 m2 solar project – 280,000 m2 of it directly on top of the capped former chemical waste sink – that eventually deterred Solaire Group and the fact EPC contractors Belectric would not install the substation required was another complication.

Energix took responsibility, sub-contracting construction of the substation to the Israeli Electric Company utility for what would be Israel’s first privately-built substation.

"As well as having 200,000 m3 of sand moving across the surface of the site, we could only penetrate 20cm below the surface," said Levinger. "The pool had been remediated with sand, a PVC layer, more sand and rubble, with pipes protruding across the site so gas from the former waste sink could vent safely.

"The sub-surface restriction meant we had to lay a concrete foundation on the portion of the site immediately above the former waste pool. As an added complication, we had to use anti-corrosion materials for our mounting system because of the low pH in the desert environment. It was not a straightforward project.

"But turning a badly-polluted site into a source of clean energy ensured goodwill for the project from all involved and it is a solution we could apply to similar contaminated land sites elsewhere in the world."

There will be full-length articles about the state of solar in Israel and Palestine in the forthcoming, June, edition of pv magazine.