April 2 - An Israeli energy company is taking flower power to a new level. The company, AORA, is using tulip-shaped towers to concentrate solar energy into a high temperature gas that can be used to power entire communities. Their newest plant has just opened in Spain. Joanne Nicholson reports.
Flowers don't usually grow in this sort of environment but in Southern Spain, one company is cultivating a special kind of bud that could revolutionise electricity production. Hidden in the Tabernas desert in Andalusia stands a 115-foot-high tulip that can generate enough power to produce electricity for 35 houses. While tracking the sun's movement, some 50 mirrors reflect light into the tulip's bulb. The air inside heats up to around a thousand degrees celsius, then it's channelled into a combustion chamber where it expands and powers a turbine generator, which produces electricity. The operators of the power plant say it saves money in an environmentally friendly way. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) PLANT OPERATOR HELIO ESCRIG, SAYING: "The idea is to make it modular and scalable, so we can supply to the demand for power. Another benefit is that the heat transfer fluid is air instead of oil or mineral salts, atmospheric air that's free. We don't need to cool it either so there is no water consumption." And when the sun goes down, an external fuel supply switches on so the plant can run round the clock. The tulip design and the technology that goes with it, is the brain child of Israeli company, AORA. They began developing it in the 1980's and now operate a plant at Kibbutz Samar which can produce a hundred kilowatts of electricity, enough for 40 homes. The plants are still in the testing phase but AORA's chief technology officer, Doctor Pinchas Doron, is ambitious: (SOUNDBITE) (English) DOCTOR PINCHAS DORON CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER OF AORA SAYING: "We want to have flowers all over where there is sun and power comminties basically wherever there is sufficient sun and where people need, not just electricity, but where people need an energy solution". The tulips have been supported financially by private and European research funds. So far, AORA has raised 28 million dollars but say they need another 40 million for the project to bloom. Joanne Nicholson, Reuters