The Global View

Solar, gas or biofuels? Power-generating Tulip says ‘yes’ to all

Every alternative energy source has its disadvantages, right? Natural gas, while cleaner than coal or oil, still produces carbon emissions. But, without backup energy storage, wind and solar can’t be depended upon when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.

A growing number of concentrating solar power plants — which, instead of using photovoltaic panels, capture heat energy to drive electricity-generating turbines — are being developed with molten salt systems to store energy for use after the sun goes down. But a solar-energy company based in Israel is taking a different approach.

Call it solar-plus-any-of-the-above power.

AORA’s hybrid Tulip system uses not only solar thermal energy to generate electricity, but can work with diesel, natural gas, liquified natural gas, biogas or biofuels as well. According to the company, the modular, distributed solar thermal (DST) approach ensures that power is “always on,” whether thanks to the sun, sun-plus-fuel or fuel only.

AORA installed its first working prototype — a grid-connected Tulip — at Kibbutz Samar in Israel in 2009, and the technology’s been generating electricity ever since. A second plant was recently completed at the Almeria solar research park in southern Spain, and the facility is expected to kick into operation soon. When it does, the plant will not only generate electricity but tap excess thermal energy to desalinate water.

“I believe this demonstration unit will be quickly followed by additional installations in Spain and around the world,” said Zev Rosenzweig, AORA’s CEO.