While forging ahead on the path to popularizing renewable energy, the United
States continues to find a true partner in Israel, which is capable of exporting
its innovation to countries small and large, American Ambassador Daniel Shapiro
said on Thursday.
“We in the US government are extremely interested in
opportunities in renewable energy and environmental research, and we know that
some of those exciting developments in Israel are happening here in the Arava,”
he said at Kibbutz Ketura in the morning.
“We are pleased that we have
Shapiro was on a visit of solar facilities in the
southern Arava Desert – a day after touring agricultural achievements in the
central area of the same desert, at the Yair Research Station’s Arava
Agricultural Open Day.
Just one week prior to Shapiro’s visit, US
President Barack Obama dedicated a chunk of his inaugural speech to the
environment and renewable energy. Stressing an obligation “to all posterity,”
Obama committed to combating “the threat of climate change,” which he said had
been visible in the devastating storms, fires and droughts that had crippled
portions of the world lately.
Admitting that the path to achieving
sustainability would be difficult, he noted that America must lead that
transition and “claim [the] promise” of developing new
Although Shapiro’s visit to the Israeli renewable-energy
hub had no direct correlation with the president’s speech, he emphasized the
US’s ongoing commitment to developing clean technologies.
definitely been a priority of President Obama’s for many years, to not lose
sight of the danger of the changing climate.
And that we take upon
ourselves the responsibility to be responsible stewards of the environment and
of the Earth,” the ambassador told The Jerusalem Post during the
“Both [Obama] and Secretary of State John Kerry have devoted a lot
of time and attention to that issue, [Kerry] both as senator and now as
secretary of state,” he added. “I think we’ll see an increasing focus on
Starting and ending his Thursday morning at Kibbutz Ketura, home of
the country’s first medium-sized solar field, Shapiro learned about the
transboundary renewable energy research taking place at the Arava Institute for
Environmental Studies and met with Hevel Eilot Regional Council chairman Udi
“If volunteering on Kibbutz Yahel pushed you to be a good ambassador
in Israel, then we can give you the next push,” Gat told him, referring to the
time the ambassador volunteered at the Arava kibbutz in 1987.
began to pour in the background – something that only occurs three days a year
in the Arava – Gat emphasized the importance of the expansive land and usually
constant sun rays that would make the region the ideal “Silicon Valley for
“If we will be the sun valley for renewable energy,
people, especially young people, will come to live here on the kibbutzim,” he
Guided by Avi Feldman, CEO of renewable energy financing firm
Capital Nature, Shapiro then visited Yotvata, home of the emerging Israel
National Center for Renewable Energy and the Shikun V’Binui solar thermal
“The vision here is to create a big research center, where
new startup companies can work,” Feldman said.
With a $30 million budget,
the center will allow for cooperation with academic institutes and industry, as
well as provide a home for new startups and a technology test site, he
Already, the center has three operating companies and one more
with a pending approval, as well as four academic partners collaborating on
By the end of 2013, Feldman said, he hopes to have eight more
Speaking about academic and industrial cooperation, he
requested that Shapiro push for a change that might allow increased US-Israeli
collaboration in these areas. Right now, while the Binational Industrial
Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation’s energy initiative allows for
academicto- academic and industrial-toindustrial cooperation between the US and
Israel, no “crosscooperation” exists, he noted.
“I think we could very
easily elaborate the mandates of existing programs just to support that,” he
Immediately agreeing, Shapiro said he was going to look into
speaking with the BIRD Foundation leaders to see if more flexibility could exist
within the program.
The ambassador concluded his southern Arava visit
that morning with a return to the 4.95-megawatt Ketura Sun solar field, under
the guidance of Arava Power president and cofounder Yosef Abramowitz and CEO Jon
Taking shelter from the pouring rain under the solar panels,
Shapiro listened as Cohen explained the detailed history of the field’s birth,
as well as the upcoming large solar field across the street and the other
projects in the company’s pipeline.
“In the desert, there aren’t lots of
drops of rain, there’s sun,” Shapiro said, laughing at the surprising weather
He praised Arava Power Company and its leaders as being great
pioneers of solar energy, bringing renewable technology to the market in an
affordable way and becoming a catalyst of change.
“We consider Arava
Power Company an American-Israeli product,” he said. “I know that every day this
field is working, generating real output.”
Also during the Ketura tour,
Abramowitz introduced Shapiro to Hajj Mousa Tarabin, a Beduin leader who intends
to build the first Beduin community solar field. Tarabin received Public Utility
Authority approval for the 8-MW field after repeated delays, but now faces
another wait, as the finance minister has blocked a necessary new 300- MW quota
for medium-sized fields. Arava Power will build the Tarabin field, with
financial backing from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), a US
At the lunch table in the kibbutz dining hall, Tarabin
requested that Shapiro relay an invitation to Kerry to lay the foundation stone
for his field.
“Soon-to-be-secretary Kerry does have a strong connection
to renewable energies and climate change,” Shapiro told the Post in response. “I
don’t know when he’s coming to Israel, but we’ll see what’s possible when he
The ambassador praised Israel as a leader in the development
of new technologies, solar energy being just one example of this
“I think that Israel stands to be a real partner in developing
those technologies for its own use, but also for spreading it throughout the
world, especially the developing world,” he said. “And there’s no doubt that
this opens up a lot of opportunities for science and technology and business and
people-to-people cooperation between our two countries.”
had particularly warm words for Abramowitz, who is now aiming to bring Israeli
solar fields to developing countries.
“I think David Ben-Gurion was the
first captain of sunshine, and now you’ve got the second one,” Shapiro said.