Israel’s renewable-energy dreams set to awaken at Eilat parley

Writing Samples

[box type=”bio”] This Op-Ed was published February 1, 2009 in the Jerusalem Post by myself, Wesley Pinkham, and Matthew Krieger. [/box]

It is not news that the US government has consistently supported Israel as its primary economic and diplomatic partner in the Middle East. But the reasons for continued investment in the region are based on more than lofty democratic and ideological similarities. American dollars sent to Israel have resulted in stable and significant returns on investment. That this economic partnership is now expanding into the field of alternative energy comes as no surprise.

From the wispy, year-round winds in the North to the sun-drenched desert in the South, Israel’s climate and technological ingenuity are proving to be successful launching points for a widespread and sustainable green-energy movement. The US government and private investors – Americans and Israelis – have taken note of this and have already begun investing deeply, both monetarily and politically.

In July 2006, the US House of Representatives voiced its approval for HR 2730, the United States-Israel Energy Cooperation Act, which will authorize funding for joint ventures between US and Israeli businesses in the alternative-energy sector. The cooperative partnership is expected to be launched at the Eilat-Eilot International Renewable Energy Conference this February 17-19. It seeks to invest millions of US dollars in “research, development, or commercialization of alternative energy, improved energy efficiency, or renewable energy sources.”

The conference will serve as a forum for local and international sustainable-energy leaders to plan the future of the renewable-energy market. It will feature local Israeli businesses, including: Arava Power Company, a firm that is trying to get 10 percent of Israeli households powered by solar technology, primarily through alliances and land owners; and AORA, a leading developer of applied ultra-high-temperature-concentrating solar power (CSP) technology.

AORA recently announced that it has begun construction on the world’s first gas-turbine solar thermal-power station in Israel at Kibbutz Samar in the Arava. The company’s modular energy-generating system is designed to require less land while generating more usable power and heat at a lower cost than other solar-energy systems; its revolutionary hybrid approach enables the system to run on solar-radiation input and almost any alternative fuel, including biogas, biodiesel and natural gas, guaranteeing an uninterrupted green-power supply 24 hours a day.

During the conference, AORA will conduct an exclusive tour of its Samar power station, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of March. The power station is situated on two dunams of land in the Arava and consists of a field of 30 tracking mirrors (heliostats).

Each heliostat will follow the sun and direct its rays toward the top of a 30-meter-high tower housing a special solar receiver along with a 100-kilowatt gas turbine. The patented receiver will use the sun’s energy to heat air to a temperature of 1,000 degrees Celsius and direct this energy into the turbine. The turbine will in turn convert this tremendous thermal energy into electric power that will be fed directly into the national grid.

The international business community has also taken notice, with names such as Google-backed eSolar and German-based Concentrix attending. Last week, Deutsche Bank, one of the world’s largest and most well-respected financial institutions, formally announced its intention to seek renewable-energy partnerships and investments with both local and international companies who will be attending the event.

“We enthusiastically support the future growth of the Israeli renewable energy industry and very much look forward to taking an active role in its development,” said Boaz Schwartz, Deutsche Bank’s managing director for Israel. “I strongly believe that the combination of efficient utilization of natural resources and advanced technologies, coupled with Deutsche Bank’s know-how and experience, is a win-win proposition for the renewable-energy markets here in Israel and around the world.”

Deutsche Bank is very active in the global renewable-energy arena and has been involved with numerous energy projects as a financial advisor and an equity investor.

The news was met with much excitement, with renewable-energy leaders hailing it as a landmark moment for the development of the country’s local energy market.

“Through their pursuit of investments in Israeli infrastructure and Israeli technology, Deutsche Bank is underscoring its commitment to advancing the local renewable-energy industry,” said Shimon Klein, managing partner of Jerusalem-based EZKlein Partners, a leading renewable-energy service provider. “To have a company such as Deutsche Bank actively invest in the growth of the Israeli energy market is a very significant and important milestone for the local sector.”

The Deutsche Bank announcement follows the statement released last week by SCHOTT Solar, another large German-based corporation, which said it would use the event to officially launch its Israeli operations. With more than 50 years of experience in the solar market and 18,000 employees, SCHOTT Solar has targeted Israel and its history as a technological pioneer as a great opportunity to expand its business.

The conference also will focus on the development of the Timna Renewable Energy Park initiative, a huge undertaking that will be this country’s “alternative-energy Silicon Valley.”

Israel suffers from hostile relations with many oil-producing countries, and a consistent flow of oil and natural gas is of great concern. These same geopolitical issues have become critical for Western countries. Major resources are held at the whim of tumultuous regimes. The war in Iraq was at least partially motivated by this fear of limited resources.

Sustainable, alternative energy has become so widely accepted as the way of the future in the US that even writing about its importance has become cliché. In Israel, we are slowly coming to the realization that alternative energy is a major stabilizing force, both outside and inside the Middle East.

By developing a sustainable-energy infrastructure and market, Israel can be freed from the shackles of foreign oil and further develop its own economic independence. The recent issuing of the country’s first solar licenses is a sign that the government is finally catching on to the importance of harnessing and developing the country’s renewable energy resources.

Israel currently boasts more than 600 companies in the clean-tech industry, many of which have already made significant advances in solar energy, utilization and management of water resources, geothermal technologies, energy management and conservation and desertification. These advancements are partly attributable to Israel’s academic institutions, which boast the highest number of PhDs per capita.

Like its desertification efforts, Israel continues to create something out of nothing, to sustain the unsustainable. These efforts will take a major step forward at the conference. While Israel may be lacking in water resources, the southern part of the country is drenched almost year-round with an abundance of sun. Harnessing this natural resource presents the country with both a unique challenge and immense opportunity.

“Let there be light.”

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