Final construction of AORA Solar’s 24/7 solar energy/biofuel power plant being built in partnership with Arizona State University, although nearly one year behind schedule, is expected to be operational in September.
“It’s going much slower than we had hoped,” said AORA Solar CEO Zev Rosenzweig in an interview. “Our plant is designed to European standards. We had a hard time finding a vendor in the US who could build the steel tower to metric dimensions.”
According to Rosenzweig, the ASU project proved so difficult and expensive that the Israeli company gave up on trying to make it in the US and used a regular vendor in Portugal.
In addition, AORA needed to have a registered Arizona engineer check the design. “Not a problem,” said Rosenzweig, “but ASU has an additional requirement where they need to have a registered engineer witness the steel being made, watch it being rolled.” This detail added about two to three months to the schedule.
AORA Solar also needed to get the CEC turbine inspected to make sure it did not violate any American regulations. American companies working overseas can no doubt attest to the challenge of developing similar new projects. The company also learned that Arizona project land must be inspected to ensure Native American remains aren’t disturbed.
Rosenzweig has taken a philosophical, if not stoic, attitude about this inaugural undertaking with the 24/7 solar energy/biofuel power plant. “We’re kind of learning the hard way going from one jurisdiction to another. I look at it as a learning experience.”
He has had to advise investors that the project is over budget; and meet with university staff who are upset everything is running late. “But this is reality in doing work in a jurisdiction we’ve never operated in before.”
Presently, AORA personnel expect to have the Tulip CSP plant up and ready in July, a year later than originally planned.
AORA has long-term goals after the completed ASU project. “Basically, if you want to sell in the US you need to have a demonstration plant in the US. The fact that you have a plant in Spain – nobody’s going to go look at it. The fact that you have operating history in Spain isn’t considered valid in the US.
“So we need to build to have credibility in the US, and ASU was an excellent opportunity, and at the same time to sponsor some research to help us take the design to the next level, help us explore the limits of the current design, beyond what we could do ourselves. “
Asked if larger utilities have shown interest in the project, Rosenzwweig said no. “We have a niche product. We’re 100 KW, which in the US is negligible power.” Instead, AORA Solar is looking at specific niche markets — for instance, an industrial facility in a remote area that might want to have its own power.
He said the company has received inquiries from ranchers interested in going off grid with the 24/7 solar energy/biofuel power plant, who have agricultural biowaste that might be used as biogas, and they’re interested in going off grid and for being independent, generating their own power.
“I believe there is a market. The US is so big and consumes so much power.”
As for fuel to supplement the 24/7 solar energy/biofuel power plant when the sun is not shining, it will link to a natural gas network. That will serve as a baseline when the company works with a series of different biofuels. ASU already has some excellent research going on with making biofuel from algae.
“So natural gas is supposed to be our control, and the various biofuels that we work with will then allow us to do a reading of the impact of biofuels verses natural gas, which the turbine was originally designed for.”
Photo by AORA Solar