Despite the Israeli contributions to the development of the solar water heater – known in Hebrew as the dude shemesh – and the country’s ever-sunny skies, many apartments still lack the appliance.
In 1976, the Knesset passed a law requiring all new apartments to be built with solar water heaters. Despite some regulations enacted since, the law has notable loopholes, still allowing contractors some flexibility in construction of apartment buildings that exceed nine floors.
With the growing number of high-rise condos, more and more builders are legally not including solar water heaters in their construction, industry stakeholders say. By relying solely on electric water heaters rather than the solar versions, they estimate that families spend an extra NIS 1,500 to NIS 2,000 a year.
Aiming to ease financial burdens and improve the environment, former Knesset member – and now mayor of Ra’anana – Ze’ev Bielski submitted a bill on the subject with MK Dov Henin (Hadash), in December 2011.
“As a member of the Knesset and from my experience as a mayor I was very much aware of all things to do with energy from the sun and wind and saving electricity,” Bielski told The Jerusalem Post in an interview last month.
He said he was astounded that buildings 10 floors and above did not require the devices. In addition, many structures such as certain hospitals and army bases have received exemptions from installing the solar heater, he said.
“There are so many people heating the water with electricity that is so expensive,” Bielski said. “We are pioneers all over the world in telling people how to use the energy from the sun.”
Along with Henin, Bielski therefore submitted the bill that would have sharply intensify rules regarding the installation of the appliances.
While the government did not pass the legislation, then-interior minister Eli Yishai approved updated regulations on the matter, requiring all new buildings to provide solar water heating to residents in the top seven floors, regardless of height.
Although Bielski acknowledged he is not completely happy that the rules were approved as regulations and not as law – and that the regulations do not mandate installation below the top seven floors of buildings 10 floors and above – he expressed some satisfaction with the compromise.
“For me it was okay, because it saves now every building seven floors, and say you have four flats in a floor, you’re talking about between 20 and 30 flats,” Bielski said. “It’s a bigger saving for the country.”
“I thought I better settle on this, because otherwise I would get nothing,” he added.
Bielski also said he supports the integration of heat pumps, energy efficient devices capable of moving heat from warmer to colder spaces and vice versa. These devices are popular in Australia and only require about two or three years to pay off the investment, he said.
By relying less on electricity from the grid, the country reduces its needs for additional power plants, Bielski stressed.
“As an Israeli and as a public figure I feel shame that in countries like Australia and lots of places in the world people [better] understood the need to save electricity,” he said.
Adar Azancot, CEO of Chromagen Solar Water Solutions – a large solar water heater supplier with headquarters in Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim – said he too feels the regulations are insufficient. The apartments in the upper seven floors of a high-rise are typically the most expensive ones and likely have the better- off tenants, as opposed to those located on the lower levels, Azancot explained.
“It doesn’t make sense that the rich guys will enjoy free hot water while those who are less rich won’t enjoy the same kind of advantage,” he said.
Religious tenants of such buildings are also placed at a disadvantage, seeing that they are more likely to buy apartments located on lower floors as well, Azancot added.
“If there was no way to allow 25-story building to enjoy free hot water, then that would be one thing,” he said, stressing that technology to supply solar-heated water to all high-rise apartments is readily available.
In addition, Azancot said that his company is looking into developing a collector that would be part of the southern façade of buildings, which would be able to free up roof space from the solar systems.
Like Azancot, Bielski stressed that there is much room for improvement across the sector.
“Today, in 2014, there are so many technologies that you can introduce into new buildings and old buildings and save tons and tons of electricity,” Bielski said.
“It’s a pity that a country like ours with so much sun we are heating water with electricity.”