Israeli firm Brenmiller Energy aims to solve the conundrum of producing solar power at night with a new energy storage system that it says is an alternative to other solar technologies and will help provide clean electricity at a competitive price. Jim Drury reports.
Solar power has, at various times, been heralded as the fuel source of the future. But there are still problems with it - difficulty storing generated electricity without daylight is one, not to mention the relative cost of the technology, especially in comparison with fossil fuels. Brenmiller Energy of Israel, though, says it has solved both problems. CEO Avi Brenmiller. SOUNDBITE: Brenmiller Energy Chief Executive, Avi Brenmiller, saying (English): "In order for renewable energy to move to the next phase, we need to make it available whenever we - human beings - need it, and not when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. So storage is the name of the game. We will have this technology at conventional fuel numbers (prices) with the same availability around the clock. I think that's the major breakthrough here." A row of parabolic mirrors at its 15-acre site in the Negev desert tracks the sun - concentrating its rays to generate steam, which drives a turbine to produce electricity. Some of the solar heat is stored underground, using a new system which can operate without sunlight. SOUNDBITE: Brenmiller Energy Chief Executive, Avi Brenmiller, saying (English): "We first concentrate the solar energy into the receiver which has a flowing media inside, the flowing media is heated to 500 degrees centigrade, then move to the other ground storage area, heating the storage media and then creating, generating steam from the same storage media to operate the steam turbine." While the company won't reveal its technological secret, it does say a cement-like material is the key to storing the heat. Brenmiller reckon this is more efficient than other systems, such as those using molten salt - only five percent of stored energy, they say, is lost in a 24 hour period. Eco Energy CEO Amit Mor once advised the World Bank on energy. He says he's excited by Brenmiller's work. SOUNDBITE: Former World Bank Energy Adviser and CEO Of Israel-Based Eco Energy, Amit Mor, saying (English): "It is producing electricity...a concentrated solar energy, in a very cost-effective manner in which according to my understanding, there is no other technology like that in the world." Brenmiller says its site produces grid parity - the often elusive point at which electricity produced from renewable energy sources costs the same as that produced by fossil fuel-powered plants. The 1.5 megawatt Negev site is now hooked up to Israel's national grid, while Brenmiller says its ambitious plans to build sites overseas are going full steam ahead.