Standing at a Knesset rooftop podium with rows of photovoltaic panels behind him, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein recited the Sheheheyanu blessing on Sunday morning, celebrating the official launch of the parliament’s solar energy program.
“What is happening before our very eyes is indeed exciting, a true revolution,” Edelstein said. “It is not just the solar panels; it is the message, the idea, the new path. This is not merely a revolution in energy saving; it is also a turning point with regards to the environmental awareness revolution that we have been promoting over the past two years.”
Connecting the solar roof is the epicenter of a larger Green Knesset Project, a comprehensive plan launched in January 2014 that aims to transform the house of parliament into a sustainable building. The project was initiated by Edelstein and Knesset director-general Ronen Plott, with the guidance of sustainability coordinator Dr. Samuel Chayen.
While the celebratory ceremony occurred on Sunday, installation of the panels officially began three Sundays before – on March 8 – after a ship filled with 1,406 solar panels arrived in Israel from China in the days prior. Expected to be fully operational by June, the panels will ultimately supply about 10 percent of the building’s electricity needs, with an installed capacity of 450 kW and taking up 4,650 sq.m. of roof space.
Combined with the many other energy efficiency measures that have been integrated since the project’s beginning, the solar roof is expected to reduce the Knesset’s electricity bills by one-third by the end of 2015, according to Chayen.
All in all, the legislature has invested NIS 7 million in 13 portions of the project thus far, he explained.
“The Green Knesset Project has a vision – to take the Knesset into an era of sustainability,” Chayen said on Sunday morning, during a tour of the building’s new sustainable features.
Walking past the Chagall tapestries in the Knesset hall, Chayen pointed out how all the overhead lighting has already been changed to LED bulbs.
“Not only the lighting has been changed, but we also renovated all the glass around the hall, so that everything is more efficient,” he said.
Moving on to the meat cafeteria on the floor below, Chayen gestured to more LED lights but also explained that the cafeteria will soon be sorting its trash and sending away organic waste for composting.
Overall, the Green Knesset Project involves a wide range of building upgrades, including an overhaul of the water, air-conditioning and lighting systems.
Two electric vehicle charging spots have been installed in the Knesset parking lot, and plastic water bottles have been eliminated from committee meetings.
In mid-February, some 35 Knesset employees completed the government’s first internal, comprehensive course on sustainability under the framework of the Green Knesset Project.
The curriculum involved environmental ethics, environmental law, environmental economics, water, energy and waste.
Aiming to significantly reduce paper use, the Economic Affairs Committee launched a pilot program in May to send members primary and secondary legislation copies via electronic means only. In November, the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee members followed suit by replacing their hard-copy documents with a set of new iPads.
Last spring, Knesset Secretary Yardena Miller-Horovitz required MKs to send the secretariat queries and accompanying material by email rather than in hard copies, and also began sending committees and MKs reports via email and printing preliminary bills only upon request.
Over the course of the next year, LED lights will be installed in portions of the Knesset where they are not already affixed, Chayen said during the tour. In addition, a new air-conditioning system will enable using excess heat generated by these units to warm water, thereby saving the Knesset 50 percent of its gas consumption, he added.
On a low roof on the southern side of the Knesset, Chayen pinpointed the spot where a microclimate study will be conducted starting in September in conjunction with the University of Haifa’s Kadas Green Roofs Ecology Center. There, researchers aim to determine whether wildlife growth adjacent to photovoltaic panels can cool the panels sufficiently to make their operation more efficient.
The Green Knesset Project has already made waves with other houses of parliament around the world. Already, the Knesset has signed a number of sustainability cooperation agreements with legislatures in Africa and Europe, including those in Ethiopia, Kenya, Albania, Romania and Uganda, Chayen explained.
An additional partnership with Rwanda is nearing finalization, while the project leaders are soon traveling to Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico for initial talks, he said.
MK Dov Henin (Hadash), who has led the project among the Knesset members themselves, stressed his desire for the legislature to become “an example of green parliaments all over the world.”
Knesset director-general Plott pointed out that while Australia and Germany both have solar panels on their houses of parliament, the Israeli rooftop field is slated to be larger.
“That means the Israeli parliament will be the greenest in the world,” Plott said.
Adding that the money invested in the Green Knesset Project infrastructure should repay itself within five years, Plott expressed hopes that other government institutions will follow suit.
“I turn to everyone and say government offices and everybody in Israel, come to the Knesset and see how this is done,” he said.
Eitan Parness, head of the Green Energy Association of Israel, said his organization first proposed the greening ideas to the Knesset in 2008, but that the approval of net metering regulations – in which institutions or homes can produce electricity directly for their own use – in 2013 allowed for the project to proceed.
“It will be a good example to many institutions... to go green,” Parness said.
Although the Green Knesset Project is a government venture, environmental groups have been involved every step of the way and “see themselves as partners” to the program, added Naor Yerushalmi, the executive director of Life and Environment, the umbrella group for Israel’s environmental organizations.
“The Knesset symbolizes the sovereignty of the people in a democracy, and there is no doubt that the public supports environmental steps,” Yerushalmi said. “We see this in recycling of bottles and paper, in environmental education in schools, and even in the willingness to save water and electricity when needed. I hope that the Knesset solar roof will serve as a beacon to the Israeli public, and of course to the legislators who will sit in this house, who will promote environmental legislation and policy.”