Fuel for thought at Israel’s renewable energy conference

Israel’s story with renewable energy is a long and mature one, which didn’t just begin after 9/11, the skyrocketing $70 per barrel oil costs, or talk about global warming.”What feeds terrorism is oil,” Shimon Peres, Israel’s Vice Premier declared at …

Israel’s story with renewable energy is a long and mature one, which didn’t just begin after 9/11, the skyrocketing $70 per barrel oil costs, or talk about global warming.”What feeds terrorism is oil,” Shimon Peres, Israel’s Vice Premier declared at the international Renewable and Alternative Energy Conference held recently in Tel Aviv, making the connection between a peaceful world and the responsibility of Western countries to curb its dependence on foreign petroleum.

Peres’ opening was both an invitation and warning to democratic nations, which must be ready to form a tight coalition to decrease dependence on fossil fuels, he said, and stop a “nuclear” Iran.

Paramount to making that happen, Peres said, is that democratic nations need to create alternate sources of energy. Peres highlighted Israel’s strengths and position on renewable energy. “The only way to cut [terrorism] down is by creating alternatives,” he said. In Israel, “We prefer solar energy – it is more permanent, more fair and does not affect the ecology.”

After he concluded his remarks, half of the auditorium headed over to the one-day “Renewable and Alternative Energy Conference” under the umbrella of the two-day annual Prime Minister’s Conference.

It was a fitting subject on which to focus an Israeli event. In the last year or so, as the world looks to energy alternatives derived from renewable sources such as solar, wind, biomass and ocean energies, Israelis have the right to trumpet their own successes.

Israel’s story with renewable energy is a long and mature one, which didn’t just begin after 9/11, the skyrocketing $70 per barrel oil costs, or the retreating Greenland glaciers melting from Global Warming.

Alternative energy company Ormat was invited as a guest speaker to illustrate this fact. The company’s CEO Yehudit Bronicki explained, “Ormat is the story of a company that started in renewable energy 40 years ago.”

She demonstrated with slides such as the solar energy collectors Ormat built in Mali, Africa in 1966 and another slide of a unit they had constructed to protect the Alaskan oil pipeline in the 1970s. Today, the company is involved in a multi-billion project to recover oil from the Alberta tar sands. Ormat’s plant will be ready in 2007.

Ormat also builds plants for collecting geothermal energy and has developed a biodiesel fuel that requires no blending before use.

Another Israeli company, Metrolight, an energy efficiency company in the lighting market, announced a contract with several hundred US supermarket “Publix” stores and with the City of New York to reduce the city’s street lighting bill by about $90 million per year.

And no renewable energy conference in the world would be complete without representation from Israel’s Solel, which has built the largest solar energy plant in the world in California’s Mojave Desert. Solel had its own news: that it signed to build three $890 million solar collection plants in Spain.

Other alternative energy companies who presented their wares included solar shingles company PowerLight Corporation, GreenFuel which converts smokestack pollution into biofuel; Genova, which makes fuel from olive pits.

Ofer Alon, CEO of Smart Energy spoke about the “retrofit” device his company has made that can shave hundreds up to millions of dollars off home and industrial air conditioning units by making them more efficient.

Target another energy efficiency company has developed an electricity board which can tell a homeowner real time, via email or SMS what amount of energy each appliance is consuming.

Target CEO Yaron Sheinman says his device, if connected to the grid, can prevent major blackouts like the one seen in Western Europe last week where 10 million people were left without electricity. “There will be no more blackouts, because our utility controls and measures electricity to give priority to certain circuits or notify consumers that there will be a load problem.”

Target can also integrate conventional electricity with other forms of energy such as solar or generator without having pauses between the switchover.

Basic information, such as having knowledge about one’s electrical consumption can change how we consume electricity, Sheinman added. “I don’t want to say we should stop building new power plants,” he said. “But the construction could certainly be delayed if our current energy supply was better used.”

Energy efficiency to curb the energy crises were also some of the points made by Allan Hoffman, Senior Analyst, US Department of Energy.

“The US is on an irrevocable course to having an energy wise society,” said Hoffman. “Transition to a society based on more renewable energy is inevitable — we just want to speed it up as much as we can,” he added, noting that currently the US is importing 60 percent of its oil.

“It took huge oil prices and 9/11 for people to wake up to the to the security aspects of having an energy policy,” says Hoffman. “The elections that are taking place in the United States should lead to further action on clean energy,” he added.

Other prominent guest speakers at the day?s event included Ambassador to Israel Richard H. Jones and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni, who last Thursday was ranked by Forbes as the 40th most powerful woman in the world.

Jones said the conference on energy was significant due to the energy crises, which “threatens to derail economies in developing countries and skew global incomes.”

Jones looked to two new Israeli centers to advance some of the nation’s and world’s research on energy: Haifa University’s Center For Advanced Energy Studies and the Weizmann Institute which is launching a center to make energy from “everything from plants and biomass to plasma and particle physics,” he said.

In terms of cooperation Jones sees Israel and the US can be partners on biofuels and solar energy and for that reason, perhaps, these two areas were given their own panel at the conference.

“It is fitting for the US and Israel to have a broad talk to shift to renewable and alternative energy and share our notes and increase energy efficiency,” said Jones. “Like Israel,” he added, “The US is seized with issues of energy security.”

Danny Grossman, the Israeli Director of American Jewish Congress (AJC) said that the secret for producing renewable energy “lies in US and Israel’s shared values.”

He went on to speak about the joint Israel-US multi-million dollar R&D energy bill, the bipartisan United States-Israel Energy Cooperation Act, also known as HR 2730 the AJC helped pass this year.

Binyamin Ben Eliezer, Minister for National Infrastructure summed up Israel’s renewable energy goals well in his keynote speech: “Israel is committed to a new energy economy,” he said. “Israel has reached the point where it sees itself not only as a part aimed at improving the local environment, but rather as a part of the global effort to create a sustainable world.”

About Karin Kloosterman

Karin Kloosterman lives in Jaffa, Israel. She is a journalist, writer and blogger who focuses on the environment and clean technology from Israel and the Middle East. Published in hundreds of newspapers around the world, Karin also writes for the Huffington Post and Green Prophet.