It's hot down south. Really, really hot most of the year, especially around Eilat. The sun pounds down onto the city and its surroundings. For years, people thought Eilat was just a good place to go for a tan and a swim or a swanky hotel. In an age of global climate change, the Eilat-Eilot Regional Council realized, however, that sun could also mean energy.
At the first annual International Renewable Energy Conference and Exhibition in Eilat in February, the regional council kicked off its plan to encourage companies to set up beta sites for alternative energies in the city and surrounding kibbutzim. They also declared their intention to switch solely to renewables for energy and thus become a model region, which could then be copied in other parts of the world.
That's an extremely complex task, and not one to be accomplished overnight. Nevertheless, eight months later, there are signs that things are beginning to move.
The regional council has managed to lure a couple of companies down south to create test sites, such as Aora, which launched its test site at the conference in February.
Since then, they have begun talks with several other alternative energy companies.
"Right now, the renewable energy technology is all German or Chinese. There is no mature Israeli technology. Our strategy is to be the bridge between the laboratory and the market," Noam Ilan, head of Business Development for the Eilat Eilot region, told The Jerusalem Post recently.
"We are in talks with B-Solar, Solaris Synergy (to use the Eilat Water Treatment Plant), Dov Raviv's MST, Phoebus and Winflex," he added. Solaris is developing a floating solar panel system, while Raviv, the father of the Arrow missile system, is developing a new concentrated photovoltaic technology. Phoebus designs green heating systems and B-Solar is working on more efficient photovoltaic cells.
"There are three related elements coming together down in Eilat," iConsortium: The Israel Energy & Security Consortium Chairman and founder David Schwartz told the Post. "The first is the international conference in February 2010, which will showcase Israeli alternative energy technologies."
Conference organizers said Wednesday that the conference would also feature the launch of the bidding process for the 200MW Timna Renewable Energy Park and the unveiling of the planned Center for Renewable Energy Technologies. The center's goal is to establish a foundation for advanced technological entrepreneurship in the field of renewable energies. It will be managed by an entrepreneurial group chosen by the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor, with government support covering 50 percent of the investments and expenses. The center will receive a governmental budget of NIS 57 million and it will commit to a minimum of five years of activity, according to a press release.
"Second, what we are trying to do down there is not just R&D but a blueprint as to how to transform a region. There are also mini projects - pilot projects for energy efficiency," Schwartz said. iConsortium (formerly the MyPlanet consortium) has been helping plan the green building aspects of the conference and bring companies down to Eilat. iConsortium provides one-stop service for green and/or security retrofitting of buildings and installations.
In addition to providing land to set up solar towers or solar panel beta sites, work is afoot to test out energy efficient materials and technologies on kibbutz houses. The greenAgenda sustainability consulting company is in the beginning stages of planning.
"We're just trying to figure out now how to get the pilot project off the ground and figuring out which technologies will work and how the kibbutzim use their energy," greenAgenda CEO Karni Govreen-Segal said Wednesday. In addition to alternative energy technologies, they are looking at other construction elements such as roofing, window and shade placement and other similar features, she added.
"What we need now are businesses and people down there to say we want to save energy," she said. Little by little, that seems to be happening.
"It's not good enough to replace fossil fuel with solar. We need to use less energy and waste less energy," she added.
Speaking of solar, Kibbutz Ketura has become a bastion of solar energy, thanks to the founding of the Arava Power Company. While the company would like to transform the entire region into a solar mecca, they're focusing on getting the first commercial solar field in Israel up and running in a field right next to Kibbutz Ketura. The field would produce 40 MW of energy, APC President Yosef Abramowitz said.
The kibbutz had also set up a validation center at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, Schwartz said.
Some of the hotels have also started to green themselves.
The Orchid Hotel was the first in Israel to put up solar panels on its roof to generate electricity six months ago. They intend to put up another similar installation next year. The hotel has a solar water heater system and is looking into water recycling systems. It also has systems which govern lighting and electricity use.
The Al-Sorag window film company recently covered 100 meters of the Magic Palace Hotel, Al-Sorag Marketing Manager Uzi Zaharony said. Window film is a dual energy efficiency/security product. Its basic form can be used to prevent glass from shattering in explosions. A slightly more advanced version also filters the sun's rays and helps keep buildings cool.
"The hotel started with a pilot project about two years ago on the windows of two suites. When they realized that it really cooled the rooms down and their customers liked it, they wanted to cover a greater area. They started with the suites, about 100 meters, but ran out of money last year because of the global financial crunch. However, we're in talks with them about doing more of the hotel this year," he said.
Al-Sorag also recently covered all the windows in a local arts school.
In Eilat, the public and private sectors seem to be working together to try and accomplish environmental goals.
Schwartz said he saw that, in part, the mission of his consortium and private business in general was to provide encouragement, explanations and support so that government initiatives were more than just proclamations.
"Government initiatives often take time, whereas private businesses can get the ball rolling on the ground," he said.