David Lehrer, director of the Arava Institute: “The technology for renewable energy most prevalent in the world has been developed by Israel or Israelis.”Israel’s developments in renewable energy have been like the cobbler who doesn’t own shoes. Established leaders such as Ormat Technologies are generating power abroad, but back home Israeli citizens still rely on fossil fuels for most of their energy needs.
Times are about to change. The Arava Institute of Environmental Studies, based in Kibbutz Ketura in the south of Israel, recently announced its plans to establish what could be the world’s first renewable energy park – the Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation.
The center is expected to make the most of Israeli innovation and invigorate the barren desert. It will attract local and foreign talent to co-develop new technologies in the field, while plans call for R&D facilities, an incubator for startup companies, and education centers for both locals and tourists.
Says David Lehrer, the director at the Arava Institute to ISRAEL21c: “I think that if there is any country in the world whose interest it would be in weaning itself away from fossil fuels it’s Israel. Not only do we have the motivation, we have the natural and human resources to do so.
“The technology for renewable energy most prevalent in the world has been developed by Israel or Israelis,” he adds.
Lack of government foresight, policy and incentives has prevented the mass adoption of home-grown technologies, suggests Lehrer, who is researching the economic impact of invasive species on sand dunes.
With infrastructure already in place, the new center will not only power the Eilat/Eilot regions – eventually providing up to 300 MW of energy – but it will also be a model of sustainability the world over, organizers hope.
Among the projects to be realized in the next two years is a solar panel station to power Kibbutz Ketura (2 MW), with the ultimate goal to power the entire region, including the city of Eilat.
Lehrer says that significant developments in biofuels will be made within this short window of time, making use of the region’s agricultural waste, such as cow manure and date palm waste.
Lehrer also expects the center to develop green communities in the region, where buildings fitted with solar panels and mini-wind-turbines will become homes that are “energy producers,” not consumers.
The park is an initiative of both the Arava Institute and the Arava Power Company, and it will draw on research talent from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Weizmann Institute. It will be named after Middle East solar energy pioneer Bryan Medwed, who was killed in a car accident in 2002.
And of course, educating children – the next generation – will be part of the center’s scope. “We will be teaching our children from kindergarten to high school about renewable energy,” Lehrer explains.