May 25, 2008

Google may help Ormat open more plants in the US, like this one in Nevada.The kind of energy that spouts out of Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park, could be powering the world’s most famous Internet search engine, Google, and homes across America.

Israel’s geothermal company Ormat Technologies, the biggest of its kind in the world to harness the heat energy from the earth, may get financial backing from Google to bring alternative energy to the mainstream in America.

“We have not made any announcement related to Google,” wrote Dita Bronicki, the CEO of Ormat, by email to ISRAEL21c last Thursday, but media reports suggest the deal is well on the way.

Ormat, which has been in the cleantech business for more than four decades – even before cleantech became part of our lexicon – harnesses “clean” energy from heat emitted by the earth. Working in other areas including biodiesel, Ormat could help America achieve energy independence from oil and coal.

In Israel for President Shimon Peres’ presidential conference “Facing Tomorrow,” Google co-founder Sergey Brin told TheMarker that the company plans on investing in Israeli alternative energy companies and Ormat, the world leader in geothermal energy, is expected to be one of them.

The publicly traded NASDAQ company founded by the Bronicki family, is just one of the companies Google is looking at Brin said. Calling Ormat an incredible company, he also said there were a lot of Israeli companies working in interesting areas of renewable and alternative energy, and electric cars.

According to news reports, senior Google execs have met with Ormat executives at two conferences; and Larry Page, who is the other co-founder of Google, has visited an Ormat plant in Nevada.

Page said: “Our goal is to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity that is cheaper than coal. We are optimistic this can be done in years, not decades.”

Google’s long-range objectives, of which Israeli companies could play a part, are to help develop electricity from non-polluting renewable energy sources. Its focus now is on solar thermal power, wind power technologies, geothermal systems and other clean technologies.

Any new investments would be handled through the company’s philanthropic activities, And as proof of its faith in alternative energy, Google’s headquarters use solar panels to generate 1.6 megawatts of energy.

Ormat and Google, it is reported, are already working together to push ahead the legislation to secure geothermal development budgets from the US government. Ormat today operates a number of geothermal energy collection sites in the US. This past February the company said it was testing an “Enhanced Geothermal Systems” technology in cooperation with America’s Department of Energy.

Google has other business interests in Israel. In 2006, the company set up an R&D center in Haifa, the first of its kind in the Middle East. So far dozens of new Google applications have been built in Israel, including Google Trends and Google Suggest.

It’s not the only American super-power expressing faith and interest in Israeli capabilities. On a visit to Israel this week, Microsoft’s chief executive Steve Ballmer said that the American software giant is as much Israeli as it is American.

His comments came at the inauguration ceremony of Microsoft’s new research and development center in Herzliya in a ceremony attended by President Shimon Peres and Israeli high-tech leaders.

“Microsoft is as much an Israeli company as an American company,” Ballmer told assembled guests. He added that the proportion of Microsoft employees per capita in Israel was similar to that in the United States.

Microsoft has been active in Israel for many years and has two R&D centers in Haifa, which employ 600 people. In the last two years, Microsoft purchased five companies in Israel.
The new R&D campus in Herzliya has two buildings that stretch over 13,000 square meters. In the coming year, Microsoft plans to bring on a further 150 employees.

At the ceremony, Ballmer noted that the IT sector in Israel is very advanced, and described Tel Aviv as similar to Silicon Valley. “I know very few places around the world that offer such a variety of start-up opportunities, and we intend to continue to invest in Israel,” he said.

Honored guests and businesspeople to Israel say time and time again, how important Israel innovation is for helping fulfill corporate and government goals, in areas such as cleantech, and high-tech.

This month with a dizzying number of prominent guests such as Google and Microsoft executives, and political leaders like Tony Blair, George W. Bush, and Al Gore, it would seem that Israel’s “tomorrow” is just as important to the future of Europe and America, as it is to Israel.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director