Tiny Israel isn’t much of target for Suntech, the giant Chinese solar panel manufacturer, but it makes a great a laboratory for advanced solar energy technology, the company’s chief technology officer, Stuart Wenham, said.
“We have customers all over the world who are interested in products that can stand up to harsh desert conditions, and we have found that Israel offers us a great ‘laboratory’ to test out our technologies,” Wenham told The Times of Israel.
Suntech, along with VC firm Capital Nature, which invests in alternative energy projects, last week inaugurated a new national testing site at Kibbutz Yotvata in the southern Negev. The site, called the National Technology and Renewable Energy Center, will provide certified testing approved by the Israel Institute of Standards for solar energy products. The idea is to provide objective studies and evaluations of technologies and products, in order to ensure that they work properly and are able to stand the test of time under harsh conditions.
That test is a difficult one to pass, said Wenham. “The hotter it is, the more solar panels age, and the more often they have to be replaced.”
Utilities, businesses, and even homeowners investing in photovoltaic arrays all want to make sure their investments will pay off — which first and foremost means that the physical equipment will last. “Before we can convince a utility, for example, to set up a large solar array to produce electricity, we have to convince them — and the banks, governments and investors that are funding these projects — that the arrays will last for at least 25 years.” The harsh Negev desert, said Wenham, is the perfect place for Suntech to test its technology and ensure that its panels can perform as needed.
The site, by the way, is not only meant to test Suntech products, but products from its competitors as well, said Wenham. “We welcome the prospect of going head-to-head with competitors, and encourage them to use the site.”
While deserts aren’t the only sunny places, they make a lot of sense as locations for utilities to set up arrays. “Land in the desert is cheap, and there is plenty of sun, so it’s a great place for utilities to set up large solar arrays to generate commercially viable amounts of electricity,” said Wenham. “And there are a lot of deserts in the world, but the ones that are most likely to be used for electrical production are desert areas near cities and large population centers, where the power can be easily transported to customers. One of Israel’s unique characteristics is the fact that it has a large desert in the Negev very close to its population centers, so it makes the country a perfect place to experiment with production systems, as well as delivery systems.”
And that’s not all Israel has. “One of the weak points in photovoltaic panels is the electronics that convert the sunlight into electricity, and Israeli companies have developed some very innovative technologies to ensure that the delicate electronics we need to use can stand up to the harsh desert conditions.”
Suntech, said Wenham, has found some great technologies that have already, and will continue to keep the company on top of the solar business. “There is a range of companies we are interested in partnering with, and we may even acquire some companies down the road. There is a very strong technology component here that we would very much like to take advantage of.”