Turning toxic pools into solar power farms

The unique set of abilities possessed by Israel-based independent power producer Energix make it a leader in the renewable energy sector

Neot Hovav is the first and largest photovoltaic project in Israel. Energix Renewable Energies has 'planted' 400,000 solar panels on polluted soil that would have been unable to sustain plant life for centuries. The project has a a total capacity of 37.5MWp

Renewable energy is an integral part of our lives. Still rather obscure a decade ago, it has quickly moved to the forefront of energy production in the world and, today, renewable energy projects make up for more than 50 percent of all new energy generating installations in the US and Europe.

But this is only the beginning. OECD countries have adopted a renewable energy policy that supports the replacement of traditional polluting power plants with renewable energy projects. This, along with the fact that electricity is a commodity for which demand is continually increasing, ensures a promising future and additional massive investment in the industry. Therefore, its tremendous impact on our lives has yet to come. The day when global energy production is at least 50 percent renewable is just around the corner.

The day when global energy production is at least 50 percent renewable is just around the corner

With the increase in renewable energy potential and competitiveness, the industry has matured, and the number of companies in the field has increased. Yet the industry is still dominated by sizeable companies. A company that wishes to succeed in the long term has to differentiate itself from others in order to utilise the market potential.

Success can be accomplished when a company is the ‘Fast Rider in the Elephant Trail’: daring, flexible, quick yet calculated, decisive, efficient, and always on track. Implementing such abilities while examining a project’s special characteristics will allow a company to maximise its benefits.

Energix Renewable Energies
Founded in 2009, Energix is a public company traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. It is a leading independent power producer that initiates, develops, constructs and owns, for the long term, renewable energy projects. Following its Fast Rider strategy since the day of its foundation, Energix is carving its path with conservative boldness, step by step, as it sets itself new and greater challenges. Having started by installing small-scale 50KWp photovoltaic (PV) rooftop systems at a cost of $200,000 each, Energix was the first to connect a medium-scale PV rooftop system in Israel.

Having reached a market value of more than $230m within five years, Energix has become the largest Israeli renewable energy company and one of the fastest growing companies in Israel.

Neot Hovav PV Plant
By the end of 2014, Energix had completed Energix Neot Hovav, the first and largest PV project in Israel, with a total capacity of 37.5MWp. The project was the first of its kind not only in Israel, but in the world, as it was constructed on top of rehabilitated toxic evaporation pools. These pools, which are located in the Neot Hovav eco-industrial regional council, used to be one of the most harmful environmental hazards in the country: chemical waste flowed to these pools from the entire industrial area and produced strong odours.

Given the soil and environmental challenges, only a few companies considered taking on the project. After ensuring there were no health risks or hazards, Energix saw the project’s potential: using a unique tailored mounting system, the firm was able to overcome the construction challenges by ensuring there was no penetration to the polluted soil below. During construction, Energix was involved in the nitty-gritty details to maximise work efficiency and ensure the project was kept on track. As a result, on top of the polluted soil, where no tree would have grown for centuries, Energix has ‘planted’ 400,000 solar panels, which now provide clean and green electricity to tens of thousands of households in Israel.

Energix’s next challenge after Neot Hovav was the Banie Wind Farm project. Banie is one of the largest wind farms in Poland, with a capacity of 192MW. While other companies refused to accept the challenging time constraints – completion by end of 2015 – Energix welcomed it and the project was purchased within only a few weeks. The firm’s flexibility and innovative thinking allowed it to overcome the time constraints and mitigate construction risks by splitting the project into phases and financing the first 50MW phase on its own. By building a creative transaction structure, Energix reached tight cooperation with the leading turbine manufacturer (Vestas), the construction contractor and the project developers, making them true partners in the project’s risks and success.

Annual Solar Radiation Around the World
High levels of irradiance mean an area is extremely well-suited to PV farms;
solar power could play a key part in meeting Africa’s energy needs. Source: Creativ Handz/Meteonom

Diamonds in the rough
The Fast Rider strategy is necessary to success but isn’t enough if one wants to lead; in order to become an industry leader, a company has to bring unique added value to its projects. For Energix, that means finding “the diamonds in the rough”: taking a project, recognising its potential and using that to the company’s advantage. One of the ways of doing this is by collaborating with the community, as well emphasising the environment. That means all stakeholders benefit and overcoming obstacles (which may be impossible for some) is much easier.

For example, Energix turned Neot Hovav into the first and largest PV project in Israel by utilising a few elements: first, emphasising the project’s unique impact (it was one of the leading environmental projects in the world) and so making it attractive to stakeholders; second, some of Energix’s investment in the project is being utilised by the Neot Hovav Regional Council to rehabilitate additional evaporation pools; and third, Energix has decided to finance the renewable energy section of the council’s new visitors centre. The centre will educate people about the importance of sustainability and the positive impact renewable energy has on our lives.

Thanks to this strategy, Energix has received tremendous support from all directions: the Neot Hovav’s Regional Council was dedicated to assisting in the project’s completion, while governmental and regulatory authorities cooperated with the company to overcome challenges the project faced relating to permits. The cooperation shortened the timeline of the project by a third, allowing it to achieve the astounding result of commercial operation commencement in less than a year.

With the Banie project, Energix put the community at the forefront. Its goal was to ensure every local farmer who looked at the turbines would think of them in a positive way. This was done by investing in and involving the local community in order to improve the economic conditions of the region. The local road infrastructure was improved and much funding was provided for educational initiatives and for elementary school infrastructure in the project’s surrounding area. Collaboration with the community reduced the number of obstacles the project faced, allowing Energix to put more focus on other challenges along the way.

Ensuring all parties involved benefit from the project helps harness everyone’s support. That support can make overcoming project challenges much easier and allow a company to take on projects that for others are impossible – taking the diamond in the rough and making it shine.

It was one of the leading environmental projects in the world

The green leap forward
Following these guidelines, Energix continues to develop its project portfolio. A significant early development project is a 155MW wind farm in Northern Israel. The project is being developed hand in hand with the tiny but important local Druze community. The State of Israel and the community’s leaders put great importance on strengthening their integration and supporting the community’s economic growth. Energix’s project makes this happen by creating new jobs, providing scholarships to local students and promoting initiatives in the community.

Another channel is the development of projects between Israel and its neighbouring countries. These projects are not only located in ideal sites for renewable energy projects, but are also strengthening the relationship between Israel and its neighbours by creating financial joint ventures – our small contribution towards peace building.

A third channel Energix believes in is Africa: the continent’s enormous electricity needs are not currently being met with sufficient investment by key players in the renewable energy market. This is in spite of the fact that many areas of the continent are blessed with powerful sun and strong wind conditions. There is huge potential in Africa, and that flexibility and innovativeness can welcome many opportunities.

In the coming decades, the world’s energy production will be dominated by renewable energy sources. The great promise of the industry will be a keystone for a greener and more prosperous future, replacing traditional polluting power plants. Finding the diamond in the rough and going the extra mile to make it shine will allow leading companies to continue stretching the limits of what is possible. Those limits must be stretched, as renewable energy has no substitute.

For further information call +972-3-5668855, email info@energix-group.com or visit energix-group.com

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