Israel's commitment to the new energy economy and pioneering efforts by local research and development were hot topics at the Renewable and Alternative Energy Conference held last week in Tel Aviv. "We are committed to the new energy economy. Israel has reached the point where we are part of the global effort," National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told the audience of over 400 people. As reported in The Jerusalem Post last week, the government sees the triumvirate of security, the environment, and the economy as major factors driving the need to develop alternative sources of energy and is putting its full efforts behind such development projects. The conference brought together an international group of researches, businessmen, and politicians to tackle the issue. Sessions focused on Israeli development of alternative sources of energy, including solar power. "The amount of energy from the sun is enough to sustain life on earth," said Dr. Allan Hoffman, a senior analyst at the US Department of Energy, in his keynote address. "Israel was a pioneer of solar energy in the 1960s and 1970s," said Yehudit Bronicki, President and CEO of Ormat Technologies Inc., an Israelibased company which is a world leader in developing and implementing alternative energy sources. "If Israel had maintained this through technology and regulation, we would still be leading solar power development," she said. Ormat has designed, manufactured, and implemented alternative sources of energy across the world since 1965. Israeli researchers, however, now seem poised to reclaim their place as solar energy pioneers. Dov Raviv, the famed innovator of the Arrow Missile System, has set his sights on reducing the cost of solar energy to a practical level. His company, MST A Renewable Energy Company, claims to have developed a method to produce concentrated photovoltaic solar cells, which reduces the cost from $3,000 per kilowatt to $850. This reduction in production cost is vital for the successful implementation of solar power. "If costs can come down, it will open the photovoltaic market in a significant way," Hoffman said. David Waiman, CEO of Jerusalem-based OrionSolar Photovaltaics Ltd., described his company's efforts to commercialize a dye-based solar cell. According to Waiman, the dye-based system is much cheaper than the current silicon technology. Based on Raviv's pricing model, Prof. David Feinman, Director of the National Solar Energy Center at Ben-Gurion University, presented a program to create a total solar infrastructure in Israel by 2036. Most solar energy proposals focus on replacing or supplementing traditional sources for electricity, such as oil and coal. However, transportation is one of the most promising, and perhaps most difficult, areas in which to introduce alternatives to fossil fuels. Raviv presented a model whereby solar power is used to mix hydrogen and carbon dioxide which produces methanol, a potential replacement for fossil fuels. Prof. Jacob Karni, Head of the Center for Energy Research at the Weizmann Institute, claimed that technologies which use solar power to create a chemical reaction could be operational within four years with proper research and development support. Funding for such research and development initiatives is growing, reflecting the sense of urgency within the government. Infrastructures Ministry Director-General Hezi Kugler said that his ministry has quadrupled funding for research and development. "We have modeled our support as in the Chief Scientist's Office; we believe this enables us to give the greatest support at initial stages," he said. Additionally, Dr. Eli Opper, Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Science, Culture, and Sport, said the ministry was considering classifying alternative energy development as a preferred sector. "We will have the money for any good idea presented to our office," he said. In his remarks, Ben-Eliezer emphasized the global nature of the challenge to develop alternative sources of energy, saying "we cannot go it aloneâ€¦ this must be a joint effort where we put our expertise to work." Concurring, Hoffman, in his address, highlighted the common interests of the US and Israel in developing alternative energy sources. "Both the US and Israel are too dependent on imports," he said. Hoffman told The Jerusalem Post that the similar nature of the US and Israeli energy economies created a natural area of cooperation between the two countries. "Research and development is part of the long-term solution, but we also need to pay attention to the deployment of these technologies," he said. One manifestation of this cooperation is the approval by the US House of Representatives this summer of the USIsrael Energy Cooperation Act, which offers an opportunity to expand the scientific cooperation between the two countries in the pursuit of alternative energy sources. The bill authorizes the funding of eligible joint venture projects between US and Israeli businesses and researchers with grants of $20 million annually from 2006-2012. The bill is to come before the Senate within the next few months, according to Danny Grossman, Israel Director of the American Jewish Congress, the organization which initiated this bill. Grossman is confident the bill will pass the Senate. Once approved, funds will be granted to groups such as the Binational Industrial Research Development Foundation, one of the main sponsors of the renewable energy conference.