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Top US experts tour Israel’s renewable energy sites
By SHARON UDASIN
06/21/2012
A cohort of energy experts from various parts of US travel Israel to explore potential collaborations with their Israeli counterparts.
 
For Jorge Junquera, witnessing Israel’s energy diversification process in action in many ways mirrors the cleantech expansion currently taking off in Puerto Rico.

“There are a lot of similarities even though our motivations for diversifying are somewhat different,” Junquera, advisor to the president and senior vice president at the Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

“Over there we are in an economic recession and we are really into reinventing ourselves to get out of the rut. And energy has become the single largest roadblock to economic development.”

A cohort of top energy experts from various parts of the United States are traveling Israel this week to explore potential collaborations with their Israeli counterparts, in a tour organized by Project Interchange, an educational arm of the American Jewish Committee.

During their time in Israel, the delegates are visiting with various energy companies and academics to learn about Israeli technologies – particularly exploring those in the cleantech and renewable energy arena, such as solar and electric vehicle innovations.

In addition to Junquera, the delegates include Mark Brownstein, chief counsel for the Energy Program at the Environmental Defense Fund; Scott N. Paul, founding executive director of Alliance for American Manufacturing; Brian Wynne, president of the Washington, DC-based Electric Drive Transportation Association; Stephen Walz, director of energy planning at the Northern Virginia Regional Commission; Tyler Alten, director of energy management and strategic development at Greener by Design, LLC; Kenny Esser, senior associate at Gabel Associates; and Tom Wolf, executive director at the Energy Council of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

Some stops along the way have already included Ben-Gurion Univeristy’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Sde Boker, BrightSource Energy’s Solar Thermal Development Center in Dimona and the Ashkelon water desalination plant at Ashkelon. Next door, the delegation will also be visiting the first planned future Palestinian city of Rawabi, as well as Ramallah, where they will meet the former acting director-general of the Palestinian Environment Ministry.

Meanwhile, they have also have been meeting with various experts on political and strategic issues facing Israel and are learning about the situation of the Negev Beduin population.

Junquera is very involved with the implementation of the governor of Puerto Rico’s policy on energy, which like Israel, has increasingly become to diversify the territory’s energy sources.

“We have the first large-scale photovoltaic farm coming online this July and we have two wind farms under construction, one of which should be coming online in October or November,” Junquera said.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico is also aiming to switch many of its oil-fired plants to natural gas, and has a goal of powering the territory by 15 percent renewable sources by the year 2020, Junquera explained.

He was happy to see that Israel, too, is “diversifying from oil into gas.” Junquera was particularly interested in Israel’s Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) offshore buoy system that the country is now developing, as Puerto Rico is doing the same thing.

He did note, however, that after seeing the brilliant desert sunlight here, he is surprised that solar energy has not been adopted more speedily.

After meeting with Prof. Pedro Berliner, director of the Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, on Wednesday morning, Junquera said he was excited to try to link the University of Puerto Rico with Ben-Gurion University for potential future collaborations. Puerto Rico at the moment has a pipeline of 1 gigawatt worth of signed solar contracts, most of which are photovoltaic and include a government-sponsored green energy farm as well as residential and commercial photovoltaic projects, according to Junquera.

“We are trying as many routes as possible, to increase distributed energy in that way,” he said.

From several thousand miles north, Stephen Walz, Northern Virginia Regional Commission’s director of energy planning, told the Post that his purpose in attending the trip was likewise “to build partnerships,” as Virginia already has many such energy collaborations with Europe and Asia. Welz was particularly interested in products that the company Amdocs was developing for consumer interactions with utility companies, as well as the work going on at Ben-Gurion University to transform liquid gas into useable energy.

“It would be great to build bridges,” Walz said of Ben-Gurion University, noting that in northern Virginia researchers are performing similar work.

Meanwhile, he said that the emerging hitech sector in northern Virginia could provide a great partner to the similar sector in Tel Aviv.

“But you can do things a little bit easier, smaller here sometimes because you have a smaller market,” Walz said. “Every place has its challenges. And Israel because of the entrepreneurial spirit here, this is a place where there will be a lot of growth of these types of products.”

From just a bit north of Walz, Wynne said he was impressed with how the electric vehicle market was beginning to emerge in Israel.

“The key to success for vehicles that plug into the grid is giving consumers a diversity of options and that’s what we saw at Better Place,” he said, noting that it is essential to have both the option of a home and outside charging system.

Crucial to the development of electric vehicles in both the United States and Israel is ridding both countries from their dependence on petroleum, according to Wynne.

“It’s really a monopoly fuel and I think there’s a better awareness here surprisingly about what the geopolitical implications of what that political dependence are,” he said.

Wynne, who served as chairman of the trip and was in part responsible for selecting the other travelers, said that he and his colleagues are “learning a great deal” while in Israel, and the experience has been “enormously valuable.”

“Israel is obviously a great microcosm of many energy challenges and there is some terrific innovation going on here that will have a big impact on the world,” he added.
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