Deep in Israel’s Negev Desert construction is well under way on what will soon become the tallest solar tower in the world. Scheduled to be finished later this year at a cost of about $570 million, the Ashalim tower will soar a staggering 820 feet into the sky.
The tower is surrounded by more than 50,000 heliostat solar mirrors, covering an area the size of 560 football fields. The mirrors reflect the sun’s rays back onto the giant structure, heating water stored in a boiler at the top of the tower, turning it into steam. The steam then spins a turbine and generates energy.
The tower will provide enough energy for 130,000 households, or about 5 percent of the country’s population, according to Israel’s Electricity Authority.
Israel has traditionally relied on fossil fuels for energy — renewable sources currently account for just 2.5 percent of the country’s electricity. The Ashalim tower is part of a push to increase that mark to 10 percent by 2020.
The tower is not without its critics, who have panned the project as too expensive and complex to be replicated. Planners argue just the opposite.
“We multiplied the size of the mirrors by three compared to the previous generation,” Megalim Power CEO Eran Gartner, who heads the consortium managing the project, told the Times of Israel. “Everything is connected by WiFi instead of by cables. The tower and its boiler are also designed to reduce costs. Everything is done to pursue profitability.”
The current tallest solar structure in the world is the Ivanpah plant, located in California’s Mojave Desert. It consists of three towers standing a paltry-by-comparison 459 feet tall.