Region launches its second major solar field, an 8-megawatt medium-sized field at Kibbutz Neot Smadar.

Under the constantly beaming rays of the Arava Desert sun, the Eilat-Eilot region has vowed to become entirely energy independent within two years’ time.

The region launched its second major solar field, an eight-megawatt medium-sized field at Kibbutz Neot Smadar, on Thursday, at the Eilat-Eilot energy storage forum held on the kibbutz grounds.

These eight megawatts join the 4.95-megawatt field at Kibbutz Ketura, online since June 2011, as well as a mass of rooftop panels that bring the region’s total solar capacity up to 20 megawatts, Dorit Banet, CEO of the Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, ahead of the conference.

In two months, these 20 megawatts will grow to 60 through the integration of four more fields, and within two years the number should jump to 160 following the integration of large sites at Kibbutz Ketura and Timna, Banet said.

Because the region’s consumption only amounts to between 120 and 140 megawatts, Eilat-Eilot can quite realistically become energy independent, she continued.

“We have to work hard for it,” Banet said, acknowledging that these 160 megawatts of solar energy will be generated in the daytime only. “If we [pursue] the idea of energy storage, we can store around 30 to 40 megawatts and we will have an independent area.”

For this reason, the Eilot Regional Council is calling upon the government to declare the region a national and global beta-site for energy storage research, and the council’s chairman Udi Gat has sent a letter to Energy, Water and Infrastructures Minister Silvan Shalom making this request.

“Without dealing with storage, we won’t be able to complete the mission,” Gat told the Post on Monday.

“Like we led everything in Israel’s renewable sector, we want to lead in storage, which is very much virgin [territory] all over the world,” he said.

Gat said that he is confident that the government will believe in the region’s mission, particularly due to the area’s success in renewable energy development and its establishment of the largest science research center south of Beersheba and Sde Boker – which focuses on renewable energy research and has received ample government support.

“The government believes in our way of thinking,” he said. “You will be able to see this belief in the money that they pass us in scholarships.”

Not only will effective energy storage systems be crucial to the Eilat-Eilot region’s goal of achieving energy independence, but such technology will play a critical role in the future of the developing world, Banet stressed. Having the ability to set up photovoltaic and other renewable energy technologies, as well as storage systems, will enable remote villages “to have a normal life” with functional micro-grid islands, she said.

“We know that our market can be the third world, where you don’t have transmission lines,” she said.

As the Eilat-Eilot region continues to develop into a hub for testing such technologies, Banet said she also hopes that more and more researchers will see the place as an optimal setting for their research as well as their family lives.

“It’s very hard to bring people here, but we already have five start-up companies here,” she said.

“It takes people time to realize that this is a place where they can come and live.”