Solar-powered Eilat? Now that's an easy cell


On Kibbutz Ketura in the Negev desert there is a new and profitable crop: electricity.
Engineers have just finished installing Israel's first major solar field on the kibbutz, which is a few miles north of Eilat and just as sunny. On a 20-acre site, 18,000 solar panels are ready to soon pump out 4.9 megawatts of electricity per hour during sunlight.

The completion of the field has been a cause for national celebration. Israel has a target of sourcing a tenth of its electricity from renewable supplies by 2020, and this is the largest renewable project to date.

Politicians flocked to Ketura - a popular destination for British kibbutz volunteers - for the dedication ceremony last week, and the state has released a special stamp and medallion. In a play on a famous biblical verse, the medallion declares Israel a "renewable light unto the nations".

Yosef Abramowitz, president of the company behind the project, Arava Power, said that Israelis commonly comment on the fact that Israel does not have oil fields, "but this energy has been here all along - we just had to harness it".

Arava Power hopes that the Ketura field is just the start. It has already signed deals with 35 kibbutzim and moshavim, as well as five Bedouin families, to erect solar panels on their land. One of its future fields, planned for Ketura in three years' time, will produce 40 megawatts of power per hour during sunlight. This means that between its two sites, Ketura will be producing a third of all energy needed for its neighbouring kibbutzim and the large resort of Eilat.

Mr Abramowitz, an American businessman, came up with the idea of founding Arava Power during a 2006 visit to Ketura, where he spent his gap year in the 1980s.

Aside from the obvious environmental benefits of solar fields, he believes they are strategically important for Israel. Recent disruption to the pipeline which brings Egyptian gas to Israel highlights the danger of depending on others for power. "Israel has energy insecurity which equals strategic vulnerability, but solar energy can help to change that," he said.

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