Israel a Model for Alternative Energy

In a televised speech tonight (June 15), President Obama is expected to discuss his plan to clean up the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast and the need for the United States to develop and rely on alternative energy sources. Israel has been at the forefront of such technology; following is important background about Israel’s ongoing successes to become more self-reliant by developing its alternative energy sector.

Israel has been taking the lead in a number of alternative energy fields aimed at reducing CO2 emissions and promoting the use of renewable energy. It is one of the first countries to actively promote zero-emission electric cars and prepare the infrastructure for mass marketing such vehicles. An Israeli company is currently active in developing and designing efficient solar power plants around the world; Israeli municipalities are contributing to international projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and in late 2007 Israel and the United States initiated a joint research alternative energy program that was signed into law.

Expert Sources on Alternative Energy

“A Carbon Cost Curve for Israel”: Main findings of a McKinsey & Company study (courtesy Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection, Nov. 2009)

Israel’s Efforts to Promote Alternative Energy Internationally

Israeli Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan attended the UN Summit on Climate Change in New York on Sept. 22, 2009 where he underscored Israel’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions and implementing a comprehensive strategy for doing so. Erdan said that Israel is encouraging the use of natural gas, solar energy and clean coal technologies.

Prior to the UN’s Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, Erdan stated that Israel’s alternative energy strategy – based largely on a McKinsey & Company studyhis ministry commissioned – would put Israel on track to achieving 25 percent reliance on renewable energies. Said Israeli President Shimon Peres at the conference, “Israel is ready and able to serve as an international laboratory on renewable energy and that this is the important message that the Israeli delegation brings to Copenhagen.”

In order to meet this goal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to establish a ministerial committee on renewable energies and reducing oil dependence, comprising representatives from seven cabinet ministries.

The First-Ever Electric Car Network

By the end of 2010 Israel will be home to the world’s first all-electric car network. The Israeli government announced on Jan. 21, 2008 its support of a plan to install the network. Electric cars will reduce the world’s dependency on oil, lower air and noise pollution and eliminate carbon emissions from cars that create greenhouse gases.

Better Place, a company owned by Israeli-American entrepreneur Shai Agassi, will provide lithium-ion batteries to power the cars and the infrastructure to refresh or replace them. One battery will enable the cars to travel 124 miles per charge. Better Place will install parking meter-like plugs on city streets and construct service stations along highways to replace the batteries. Solar technology, being developed in southern Israel, will generate the electricity to power the cars.

The all-electric cars are built by Renault-Nissan and will expand to Denmark, Hawaii, California, Canada and Australia. Renault-Nissan will offer a small number of its existing electric models, such as the “Megane” sedan, at prices roughly comparable to gasoline models. Israel will be the first country to host this technology and was also where the original technology was invented. “Jerusalem will be the first city in the world with this technology,” said Better Place CEO Agassi.

As of March 1, Israel’s electric car grid project in Israel was on schedule, according to Better Place. The company aims to have 70-100 vehicle recharging stations in operation by 2011. In September 2010 Better Place will begin testing cars. “Under the Better Place model, consumers can either buy or lease an electric car from the French automaker Renault or Japanese companies like Nissan,” wrote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, “and then buy miles on their electric car batteries from Better Place the way you now buy an Apple cellphone and the minutes from AT&T.”

Better Place announced the opening of the first electric vehicle demonstration center in Ramat HaSharon, Israel on Feb. 6, 2010. The opening of the center marked another step toward the commercial launch next year in Israel.

To promote this form of environmentally efficient transportation, the Israeli government cut the tax rate on cars powered by electricity to 10 percent (from 79 percent on ordinary cars) to encourage consumers to buy the vehicles once they become available. This initiative will offer consumers an inexpensive car for which they will pay a monthly fee based on expected mileage. The tax breaks for “clean” electric vehicles, which Israel promises to offer until at least 2015, will make the cars cheaper to consumers than gasoline-engine cars. “You’ll be able to get a nice, high-end car at a price roughly half that of the gasoline model today,”Agassi said.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, who actively promoted the project said, “Oil is becoming the greatest problem of our time.” Not only does it pollute, he said, but “it also supports terror and violence from Venezuela to Iran…Israel can’t become a major industrial country, but it can become a daring world laboratory and a pilot plant for new ideas, like the electric car.”

Clean Electricity Produced by the Weight of Traffic

An Israeli company, Innowattech, announced in 2009 it had developed an original type of generator that uses the weight of traffic to generate clean electricity. Innowattech’s specially created generator harvests mechanical energy and converts it into electrical energy, according to Innowattech Senior Technologist and Project Manager Dr. Lucy Edery-Azulay. The generators, placed five centimeters below the surface of the road, generate electricity from the pressure of cars driving over them.

Said Edery-Azulay, “One kilometer of one lane generates 200 kW per hour, assuming there’s enough traffic going by about 600 cars,” which could generate enough electricity for 250 homes along the road. “The busier the road, the more energy is created,” said Haim Abramovich, CEO and co-founder of Innowattech. Innowattech, located in the city of Ra’anana, was founded in 2007 and is connected with the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

Joint U.S. – Israel Initiatives

On Nov. 15, 2009 Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger and Israeli Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Benjamin Ben-Eliezer signed a renewable energy research-and-development cooperation agreement.

On Dec.19, 2007, then-President Bush signed into law the American-Israeli joint energy research bill. This bill funds cooperative research and development efforts by the United States and Israel for cultivating renewable and alternative energy sources. Joint research ventures include solar, biomass, wind, geothermal, wave and tidal energy, as well as advanced battery technology and energy efficiency.

U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., who first presented the legislation to Congress as its sole sponsor, said, “Cutting edge research by top scientists from the United States and Israel could hold the key to reducing our reliance on foreign oil. We must promote efficient use of traditional energy sources as well as research into alternative energy sources.”

Solar Power Energy Systems and Plants

In 2009 SolarPower Ltd., an Israeli solar power system integrator and project developer built a 50-kilowatt rooftop solar power system for HP’s Indigo division facility in Kiryat Gat, Israel. SolarPower, along with U.S.-based SunPower Corp., a manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells, solar panels and solar systems, dedicated the new system on Dec. 21. Construction of this project began in October 2009 based on SolarPower’s design and SunPower’s high-efficiency solar panel technology. Said SolarPower Co-CEO Alon Tamari, “We are very pleased to have completed the first solar power installation for the high-technology industry in Israel.”

Solel Solar Systems Ltd., formerly an Israeli company, designed the key components for a new solar energy plant in Nevada that produces 64 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 48,000 homes in the Las Vegas Valley. The plant uses 190,000 curved parabolic mirrors, concentrating desert sunlight to 750 degrees Fahrenheit, in order to heat synthetic oil inside tubes that, in turn, create steam and drive a turbine to produce electricity. These liquid tubes or “solar receivers” are specially coated glass and steel vacuum tubes designed and produced by Solel Solar Systems Ltd. with Schott North America Inc. of Elmsford, N.Y. The new plant uses about 19,300 of these 13-foot (four-meter) receivers.

Solel was acquired by Siemens in late 2009 for around $418 million. In November 2009 Siemens introduced the UVAC 2010 (Universal Vacuum Air Collector), which increases thermal heat production beyond currently available levels by absorbing optimal amounts of solar energy and converting it into heat. This new technology is expected to increase cost-effectiveness for those involved in solar field development. Solel and Pacific Gas and Electric together acquired a $2 billion contract in July 2007 to build the world’s largest solar energy park in California by 2011 that will provide enough electricity for 400,000 homes and stretch over 6,000 acres (23 sq. km.). It will use 1.2 million mirrors and 317 miles of vacuum tubing to harness the power of the desert sun, delivering 553 megawatts of clean energy.

Since 1992, Solel’s technology has been powering nine solar power stations in California that generate 350 megawatts of electricity.

Israel is likewise increasing its domestic solar power operations. In February 2008, the Israeli government issued a tender for the construction of two solar energy plants in the southern Negev desert. The two plants will supply 250 megawatts of electricity, equivalent to three percent of Israel’s electricity consumption. These new plants, along with 300 megawatts from wind power, will permit Israel to produce 600 megawatts of renewable energy by 2011-2012.

Affordable Solar Power Curved Parabolic Mirrors

Bar-Ilan University nanotechnology expert Professor Arie Zaban has invented a photovoltaic cell that could dramatically reduce the cost of producing electricity from solar power. Zaban, who heads The Nanotechnology Institute at Bar-Ilan, says that the cells, which are composed of metallic wires mounted on conductive glass, can form the basis of solar cells that produce electricity with efficiency similar to that of conventional, silicon-based cells while being much cheaper to make. 3GSolar (formerly Orionsolar), a Jerusalem-based company that has entered into a partnership with Bar-Ilan University, is developing commercial applications for inexpensive, dye-based photovoltaic cells based on Zaban’s work.

International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives

In February 2008, mayors from 15 Israeli cities joined the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives’ Cities for Climate Protection Campaign, committing to reduce 20 percent of greenhouse emissions in their cities by 2020. Goals for these cities, consisting of 3 million citizens (40 percent of Israel’s total population), include reducing gas emissions from factories, encouraging recycling and developing more environmentally friendly public transport.

Wind Turbines Wind turbines

wind turbines
Wind Turbines

Israeli executives Shlomo Shmeltzer and Dr. Eli Ben-Dov, along with Epcon Industries, aim to build a wind-turbine farm that will generate 50 megawatts of power in Israel’s southern Arava region. Together, the two men also installed 100 megawatts of turbines in northern Israel.

Geothermal Energy

Israel’s Ormat group is doing pioneering work in another alternative field of energy, geothermal energy. The geothermal plants harness steam, heat or hot water from geysers or hot springs on the earth’s surface to produce electricity. Ormat operates 11 geothermal power plants in five countries, providing 360 megawatts of power to 500,000 people.

Despite the absence of formal diplomatic ties between Indonesia and Israel, Indonesia’s state electric company awarded Ormat, along with two other companies, a tender in July 2006 to construct a new 340-megawatt geothermal power project on the island of Sumatra. It will be the largest such facility in history. Years-long negotiations between the government and the local developer over electricity price revisions have delayed work on the project, and in 2010 the Indonesian government slashed by 18 percent its anticipated energy from geothermal sources.

Meanwhile, a consortium including Ormat is competing against another consortium for a bid to build another geothermal plant, also on Sumatra.

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By The Israel Project