The temperatures start to rise. The sun comes out and the country’s beaches start to fill up. A woman perspires lightly as she sunbathes by the sea at one of Tel Aviv’s beaches.
Just down the boardwalk from her, a man is sweating heavily. He works at the Reading power station. Apprehensively, he watches the usage climb as it gets hotter and hotter and more air conditioners get switched on. He begins to check the weather forecast for the rest of the day and the next. Noticing that the temperatures are expected to rise, he quickly gets on the line to the main office of the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) to request guidance. Strategy must be deployed to prevent a costly power outage.
He knows reserves are only at about two to three percent, and an overload on a hot day or two is a serious possibility. He sweats and worries: Will this be the day that the power stations can’t crank out enough electricity?
The same hypothetical scenario could also be constructed around a cold spell in winter. The point, however, is clear. Israel’s electricity reserves are dangerously low. In a conversation with The Jerusalem Post
, one government official compared them to Sub-Saharan Africa. Any drastic rise in appliance usage could plunge parts of the country into darkness or force the IEC to initiate rolling brown outs to prevent a more costly blackout. It’s happened a time or two in previous summers.
Yael Cohen Paran, director of the Israel Energy Forum, theorized that the only reason it hadn’t happened more often and more drastically last year was because the global economic downturn reduced usage in 2009 and because the IEC has been building power plants at a frantic rate since 2007. According to Cohen Paran, it’s just a matter of time though.
Demand is rising at unsustainable levels. As much as 4% a year. The IEC is busily planning for more and more polluting coal-fired power plants because demand will double over the next decade or so.
So what’s the answer?
The debate over coal versus natural gas versus renewables as a power source is a necessary and interesting one. But there’s another angle.
One way to reduce the number of power plants needed is to reduce demand. The investment in energy efficiency is cheaper than building any type of power plant, the US-based Alliance to Save Energy has calculated. Cohen Paran refers to “virtual power stations” – the stations that don’t need to be built as efficiency kicks in.
The government is not unaware of the value of energy efficiency. The National Infrastructures Ministry has partnered with the Israel Energy Forum to encourage energy efficiency and passed a government decision last year to reduce usage by 20% by 2020. Two weeks ago, the ministry announced it would be offering free energy audits to medium-to-small businesses to see how they could save money by reducing usage.
National Infrastructures Ministry Infrastructure Resource Management Division head Ze’ev Gross, an oleh from the US who has been here for three decades, is working on bringing the sophisticated understanding of energy efficiency and the profits through savings which are prevalent abroad to Israel, he told the Post during a conversation in his office.
He’s working on creating ways to create demand side management (DSM). One of the options is a systems benefit charge on consumers which could then be used to fund energy efficiency projects. He’s also looking at decoupling the IEC’s profitability from sales.
The questions he is asking himself are: How can he prove to the company that it can be more profitable with less sales? How does he prove that convincing its customers to use less electricity is actually a better way to go?
Perhaps it won’t be such a hard sell. According to Cohen Paran, the IEC is very interested in reducing demand because the lack of reserves frightens them silly. As IEC CEO Amos Lasker said at the Herzliya Conference 2010, “I used to be an avid reader of the sports pages, now I’m all about the weather report.”
While Gross maintains that many Israeli companies are still far from appreciating the potential savings from reducing resource use, the Post
did find a number of large companies that had wholeheartedly embraced environmental measures to reduce resource use.
Many of the international hi-tech companies with branches in Israel have taken great strides to reduce their carbon footprint and promote environmentally friendly practices. Companies like SAP, HP, Motorola, and Intel and Israeli companies like Bank Leumi and Leumi Card have instituted a whole rash of actions to monitor and then curb the amount of electricity, water, paper and fuel they use.
Eran Rozen, Head of Operation Infrastructure EMEA at SAP told the Post
that the company had cut electricity use by 20% and water use by 30% in 2009.
Acknowledging that the process takes time to show its value, he said that 2009 was an important year because “it was the first year we began to see the fruit of our efforts.”
So how do you bring about such dramatic drops? While some of the measures can be quite costly, others are not. Most companies, or individuals, do not keep track of exactly how they spend their resources. Tracking usage is the first step to controlling it. Once you have an idea where your resources are going, you can see if people are using too much.
Some of the simpler measures that these companies have implemented are sensors which turn off the lights and remote control of air conditioning systems.
“If an employee forgets to turn off the central air at the end of the day, then I can turn it off for him remotely,” Moshe Genkin, Head of the Purchasing and Real Estate Branch at Bank Leumi said.
HP has used its technological edge to create a widget which shuts off the computer screens at the end of the day. At Motorola, personal printers were removed in favor of printing centers.
“If someone has to get up to retrieve a printout then they’ll think twice about printing it,” Mira Soorani, EHS Manager at Motorola Israel told the Post
Leumi Card, the first financial company with ISO 14001 environmental management certification, has also begun tracking its printing, Gilead Kehat, VP HR Risk and Regulation, said. Just by moving to double-sided printing the company reduced 35% of its paper use. That’s the equivalent of 86 trees, he said.
Motorola has also gotten its employees involved. They held a contest to come up with 100 suggestions for reducing resource use, Soorani said. The suggestions became a policy paper and one of them – carpooling – has become a serious proposal that is being worked out before being brought to management for approval.
Motorola has also become a recycling collection center. Every Pessah, the company invites its employees to bring to work their old electronic equipment – TVs, radio, what have you – to be recycled or donated. Bottle recycling is also prominent in the cafeteria.
At HP, employees are treated to environmental outings and frequent briefings about the company’s environmental measures.
Many of the companies have also switched their lighting to more efficient types – a move that generates a surprisingly large amount of savings. Alliance to Save Energy President Kateri Callahan told the Post
recently that in the US 15-20% of utility bills went towards lighting.
Soorani and Genkin and other company representatives said the measures were adopted quite happily by the employees who understood their importance both from an economic standpoint and from an environmental one.
Some of the companies have also invested in more expensive options. SAP’s Rozen said the company had invested in Cisco Telepresence video conference rooms. These are not just a projector with some sort of primitive internet-based video conference technology. These are state-of-the-art acoustically designed rooms where people in two separate countries can feel like they are sitting around the same conference table. Half a conference table faces three 100” screens. On the other side, the same half table and the same type of chairs face the screens to simulate a conference in the same room. The purpose of the rooms is to reduce air travel by enabling employees to brainstorm with each other without leaving their home office.
HP has installed a similar system in its offices around Israel.
HP also had computer data centers in almost every country it worked in around the world. Running the machines and cooling the rooms took up huge amounts of electricity. So the company streamlined the centers into three giant centers in the US over the course of three years. The savings were highly significant, said Dalit Tessel, Marketing Manager for HP Israel.
Energy efficiency can also be achieved through green building. Bank Leumi’s Genkin proudly declared that the bank has two green branches already and its headquarters, too, is a green building. The bank’s business center at Keshev utilizes the cool night air to regulate the temperature in the building in the morning. The building is sealed at night and the temperature rises to about 29 degrees centigrade, Genkin explained. In the morning, 10 degree cool morning air is circulated throughout the building, dropping the temperature to a reasonable 23 degrees. Just that system alone has saved the bank NIS 50,000 a year, according to Genkin.
Genkin also controls all of the branches’ air conditioning.
“No one can set the temperature below 20 degrees. Even if they think they are, I don’t let it actually get below 20,” he said.
Bank Leumi was also one of 25 large Israeli companies which recently received a demand from the Carbon Disclosure Project to report their carbon emissions.
Intel has also built a LEEDS certified office skyscraper in Haifa.
There’s no doubt that much more could be done. The process is not always simple to understand, as Gross points out, and so people are fearful of taking risks. However, Cohen Paran is convinced that energy efficiency and reducing demand is the only way to stave off a twilight future of more pollution and increasing blackouts.
While certainly not a representative sample, it is interesting to see
what these five large companies in the private sector have instituted
in recent years. All of the representatives said that awareness was
growing among companies. For instance, Bank Leumi’s Genkin said he had
received requests from other banks to help them streamline. While also
not statistically representative, this reporter estimates that a couple
of announcements reach his inbox per week about companies or
organizations installing resource management technology.
A recent study of 250 industrial companies also discovered that more
and more environmental practices had been implemented over the last