Wednesday, February 4, 2009

AORA Solar raises $5m for solar thermal technology

AORA Solar, a Yavne, Israel-based developer of solar thermal technology, announced today it has closed a $5 million Series A funding round led by EZKlein Partners, EDIG Construction, and L&Q Solar, a group of international solar energy investors.

Aora, formerly known as EDIG Solar, will use the funds to commission a commercial hybrid solar thermal gas-turbine power station, expected to begin operations by the end of March in Kibbutz Samar in Israel's Arava region. Work has already started on the half-acre site, which is expected to have the capacity to produce 100 kilowatts of electricity and 170 kilowatts of heat, said Shimon Klein, managing partner of EZKlein, as reported by Cleantech Group.

Funds will also be used to develop manufacturing capabilities and market expansion and to further R&D efforts.

"We believe that Aora's technology will be a ‘game-changer' in the solar thermal energy sector as it will seize market share from the companies which propose to build giant, remotely located solar thermal power plants," said Shimon Klein.

COO Yuval Susskind told Cleantech Group that the company is targeting an untapped market that's less impacted by the current credit crunch than massive installations, such as those planned by BrightSource Energy.

"The solar industry is segmented into two themes: there's the photovoltaics that you put on homes, and on the other hand there are the huge solar companies out in the desert," Susskind said. "In the middle there's nobody working on providing 100 kilowatts to 5 megawatts of solar thermal and doing it close to people's homes."

AORA's system consists of a field of mirrors that track the sun, focusing sunlight onto a proprietary 30-meter high tower that contains a solar receiver that heats air to 1,000 degrees Celsius and water to 80 degrees Celsius. The heated air is used to run a standard 100-kW gas turbine engine. The electricity and heated water can then be sold to utilities or industrial clients.

The plants are expected to run 24 hours a day, using the hybrid gas turbines to generate power during the night or inclement weather. The turbines can operate on a variety of fossil fuels and biofuels, including diesel, gasoline, natural gas and biodiesel.

AORA plans to use part of the new capital to further R&D and start its manufacturing plant for the power conversion unit and turbine in Israel. Other components of the plant would be off-the-shelf products, Klein said. In six months or so, AORA plans to seek $10 million to $50 million in additional funding to scale the manufacturing and operations, Susskind said.

AORA plans to derive revenue from selling the proprietary components and partnering with local companies to get the solar projects built around the globe. The company has completed a pilot unit in Nanjing, China, as reported by Cleantech Investing in Israel in this post last year.

AORA recently changed its name from EDIG Solar. Founded last year, the company is based on technology developed by Prof. Jacob Karni, director of the Center for Energy Research at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel.

Susskind said he has ignored calls to move the business to Silicon Valley, at least while the business is at its early stage with just six employees.

"We're here because the climate is good for solar technology, and a lot of academic knowledge is being developed in solar," he said. "Being here right now is the best place to be for this stage of our company. All the brightest minds are here."

Related Posts:

Arava Power solar project approved for Negev Kibbutz

Edig Solar provides hybrid solution for cloudy days