For five years now, a Tulip concentrating solar power plant has been operating at a kibbutz in Israel. In January 2012, a second one sprouted in Spain. While both plants have been successfully pumping out electricity ever since, they were also both built as research and development exercises. Soon, however, the world's first commercial Tulip plant will be built for a paying client, in Ethiopia.
Created by Israeli company AORA, the Tulip system is certainly unique. It incorporates a central tulip-like tower, surrounded by an array of sun-tracking mirrors on the ground. Those mirrors turn to track with the sun, reflecting and concentrating its rays onto the tower’s top-mounted "bulb" throughout the day. This causes the air inside the bulb to heat to temperatures as high as 1,000ºC (1,832ºF). That ultra-hot air is then used to run a turbine generator, thus creating electricity.
At night or in cloudy weather, the plant's generator can also run on fuels such as diesel or natural gas, allowing it to supply electricity 24 hours a day.
The new plant is being built for the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, as part of that country's Climate-Resilient Green Economy Strategy. It will have an output capacity of 100kW of electricity along with 170kW of thermal power, while occupying less than 3,500 sq m (37,673 sq ft) of space.
Additionally, unlike some other concentrating solar power systems, Tulips don't require water as a heat-carrying medium or for cooling. This is an important consideration for a partially-arid country such as Ethiopia.
Construction on the new Tulip is scheduled to begin next year. Assuming it performs well during its trial period, plans call for a series of other plants to then be built in underserved off-grid locations across the country. All of them will be run by local people, who have been trained by AORA staff.