Experts: Israeli renewable firms welcome in US
Researchers say sunny South Carolina could be an ideal place for Israeli solar entrepreneurs, clean-tech innovators.
Nir Barakat, American-Israel Chamber of Commerce Photo: Tom Glaser
Sunny South Carolina could be an ideal place for Israeli solar entrepreneurs and
other clean-tech innovators to branch out internationally, researchers and
businessmen from the state told The Jerusalem Post on Monday
“You’d want to be in South Carolina, Florida, somewhere in the
sunbelt there,” said Prof. Tom Vogt, associate vice president for research at
the University of South Carolina and director of the university’s
Vogt, who has been to Israel three times in the past two
years, was in the country as part of a 20-member business and research
delegation put together by the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce Southeast
Region. He and some of his colleagues met with the Post on Monday afternoon at
the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, where he had been lecturing
earlier. Many of the group members, which contained both academics and investors
from a variety of scientific fields, were eager to pursue partnerships and
financial ventures with Israeli companies and institutions involved in areas
like renewable energy and biomedical technology.
Founded in 1992, the
American-Israel Chamber of Commerce Southeast Region is the largest regional
supporter of Israel in the United States, according to the organization’s
president Tom Glaser. Today, the group has 500 members from Alabama, Georgia,
Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, and has been
instrumental in transactions that amount to more than $1 billion, he
Atlanta, Georgia, has the largest Jewish population in the US
Southeast; other cities with sizable Jewish communities include Memphis,
Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; Greensboro, North Carolina; Charlotte, South
Carolina; and Charleston, South Carolina, Glaser added.
“There’s a great
deal of interest in clean-tech,” he said, noting that Charleston’s Clemsen
University now has one of the largest wind turbine testing facilities in the
The region also has recently begun demonstrating interest in both
solar energy facilities and smart grids – electricity grids with real-time
digital interaction among producers and consumers. To expand projects in these
fields, Israel is an obvious place for South Carolina and the rest of the
southeast to turn as “Israelis have become experts in certain things out of
necessity,” Glaser said.
“The Israelis excel because they have to deal
with certain issues here that other countries don’t have to deal with,” he said.
“It fits into the start-up nation character.”
Vogt, who stressed that he
has continually found “pockets of excellence everywhere” in Israel, said he
enjoys looking for partnerships in “the country in the world that has the
highest per capita PhDs.”
As a nano-scientist and director of the
University of South Carolina’s NanoCenter, Vogt said he felt that his team would
be able to offer something uniquely beneficial to partnerships with Israeli
clean-tech firms or research departments.
Nano-particles are integral
components to renewable energy technologies like photovoltaic or concentrated
solar panels. While nanotechnology presents innovators with extreme advantages
“because size matters,” with the development of these technologies also come
nano-sized toxicological by-products whose side effects remain mysterious, Vogt
In the center in South Carolina, however, researchers have a
very strong focus on nano-environmental issues and are assessing the waste
generated by and toxicological impact of employing nano-technological processes,
such as those that go into creating solar panels.
Researchers there are
conducting new risk assessments and developing new paradigms to deal with such
consequences by performing larger simulations that mimic the interactions of
nano-particles in such situations, Vogt continued.
Such expertise is
something that the South Carolinians could therefore bring to the table in
partnerships with Israeli renewable energy firms and research labs, as such
nano-environmental research remains quite limited throughout the world, he
Meanwhile, his center also possesses one of the most top-notch
microscopes in the world, which actually allows scientists to really get a grasp
on “how these materials interact with their environment,” he added.
researchers in Israel continue to work with nano-materials and dope them with
very small amounts of chemical elements that can radically change both optical
and electrical behavior, it is crucial to be able to look at samples at an
atomic level for assessment, Vogt stressed. And many Israeli clean-tech start-ups
are just the right size that working with an American academic institution would
still be conducive to their needs, he added.
Working with a research
institution like his would also provide Israeli clean-tech start-ups the gateway
into the United States through sunny South Carolina, a state that has not yet
done enough in the renewable energy field and therefore has ample room to do so,
according to Vogt.
“There are huge opportunities there to basically grow
into a market,” he said.
Solar technology in South Carolina is shamefully
missing, and the fact that water still gets heated with electricity is “a
crime,” he explained. But by working with clean-tech companies and researchers
like those in Israel, Vogt said he sees an “enormous opportunity” to expand the
state’s solar activities.
“Nanotechnology will provide us with better and
better materials to do this,” he said.
While Vogt would not specify any
details on partnerships he might have made while in Israel, he said that
positive interactions were occurring in an official capacity.
Robert Johnson, executive vice president and chief strategy office at investment
firm The InterTech Group, said that his team was conducting very optimistic
discussions representatives from several Israeli firms. While his company has
not yet held any meetings with Israeli solar innovators, Johnson said that
InterTech is extremely supportive of renewable energy and already has two
photovoltaic roofs on its tri-building company headquarters.
technological revolution in Israel, the speed at which things get done, the
excellent research institutes, all lead to cutting edge developments,” he
South Carolina, as a place that overall has thus far lacked “a very
aggressive push to get into renewables,” would be an excellent platform for
Israeli alternative energy entrepreneurs to enter the American market, Johnson
agreed with Vogt.
“South Carolina is a wonderful place to do business,”
he said. “South Carolina today is not a hotbed of solar, but I think it is
starting to rise and if you were there you might catch the wave.”