It’s taken five years to get off the ground, thanks in part to the difficulty of coordinating between no less than 24 ministerial offices, but the first Israeli solar field was finally launched this month to fanfare, VIP barbecues, music, a religious rapper (who wrote a song for the occasion) and a picturesque setting sun.
Arava Power’s 4.95 megawatt solar field in Kibbutz Ketura marks a milestone for the state of Israel. The Jewish nation has been intent on branding itself as a clean-tech superhero, selling solar innovations like inverters and software abroad, yet not quite able to prove its commitment to renewable energy on its home turf.
Now, after successfully navigating labyrinthine regulatory hurdles, Arava Power has its sights set on helping Israel reach its stated goal of 10 percent renewable energy by 2020. About half of that amount could be generated by solar energy in the Negev desert, which sits under clear, bright skies most days of the year.
Although it’s a Middle East country, Israel doesn’t have any appreciable oil sources beyond the natural gas wells off the coast of Haifa. It does have a large amount of oil shale, but environmentalists caution that extracting oil from the shale would cause too much damage.
What’s left? The sun, an energy source that makes non-polluting perfect sense. Arava Power, says CEO Jonathan Cohen, is pioneering the way for other companies to make their mark in this new industry in Israel.
“There is no doubt that the natural advantage will be fully leveraged,” says Cohen. “There are talks of bio-gas, and an aggressive drive to get wind up and running.”
Banking on the sun
“It was tough,” he said at the launch event, held on World Environment Day in front of a crowd of about 500 kibbutz members, press, ministers in infrastructure and agriculture from Israel and around the world, as well as executives from companies like investor Siemens.
“We are pioneers. The bureaucracy and regulations were almost a nightmare at stages, as is expected for a brand-new pioneering industry, in a brand-new pioneering company, in a brand-new pioneering country. We very much appreciate that the building, the establishment of the first ground phase of a large solar field in Israel, is an event.”
Cohen foresees the Negev and Arava desert region as capable of providing about 2,000 to 2,500 megawatts of solar power — half of Israel’s renewable energy goals — to the national grid. Such an endeavor will require an enormous amount of financing, perhaps as much as $2 billion.
In the meantime the newly launched solar field at Ketura is expected to provide enough power to serve the energy needs of three nearby kibbutzim.
To the end of fulfilling Israel’s role as a “renewable light unto the nations,” a phrase coined by Arava Power’s co-founder, Yossi Abramowitz, in a nod to the biblical imperative upon Israel to be “a light unto the nations,” Arava Power announced that the profits from the four corners of its recent solar field will be offered to charity in the spirit of the Bible’s requirement for farmers and their produce.
The company plans eventually to build some 40 solar fields in Israel, contributing about 400 megawatts of power in total. So far, one percent of this dream has come true, and later this year Arava will launch a solar field eight times larger than the one at Kibbutz Ketura.
It’s a “first small step for mankind,” Cohen says.