Better Energy: Oil versus light

The descendants of the Maccabees are spending about NIS 30 billion on oil for transportation, with a chunk of it going to regimes that don’t exactly appreciate the idea of religious freedom – especially for Jews.

HANUKKA MENORAHS in Jerusalem 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
HANUKKA MENORAHS in Jerusalem 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If Judah Maccabee were alive today, he would be driving from Modi’in to the Western Wall in a Better Place car charged with solar power.
Hold the oil, please.
This Hanukka, a record 2.8 million cars are clogging Israeli roads and filling up on more than 4 billion liters of gasoline since the last Festival of Lights. This means that the descendants of the Maccabees are spending about NIS 30 billion on oil for transportation, with a chunk of it going to regimes that don’t exactly appreciate the idea of religious freedom – especially for Jews.
It’s as if the Maccabees decided to buy their oil from the Greeks.
Without any sense of environmental or global responsibility, we also burned a record 3 million tons of expensive and polluting fuel oil for the production of electricity at a time when the solar industry has had nothing but roadblocks put in front of it by the Finance Ministry. In fact, we spent 16 times more on burning oil for electricity than the annual budget of the Environmental Protection Ministry.
Hanukka celebrates a tiny bit of oil that fueled eight nights of light. But a world dependent on oil fuels religious extremism, a certain country’s nuclear program and war. The Jewish state has yet to celebrate the Festival of Lights with solar power making up a sizable portion of its energy footprint. In fact, this year no more than 2 percent of Israel’s energy is powered by light – about 350 megawatts – while Germany has an installed solar capacity of 35,000 MW.
Last week, the Warsaw Climate Change Conference ended without any meaningful action on climate change, even as a deadly typhoon hit the Philippines and tornadoes blasted through American towns. It is commendable that Israel can deploy an IDF rescue team to the Philippines, but Israel is firmly part of the problem of climate change and not asserting leadership in mitigating the root causes of these super storms.
The world, including Israel, puts hundreds of millions of people at risk because we do not take responsibility for the carbon we emit.
While Israel acting alone to drastically reduce emissions will not affect the pace of the melting of the ice caps, we have a special responsibility to be a model standing up to the tyranny of oil in transportation and in electricity production.
Here is how to swap oil for light:
• First, the Israeli government needs to lift the restrictions on solar power by increasing the quotas. By lifting the quotas now, next Hanukka another 2000 MW of solar-power projects could be green-lighted, creating green jobs, improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions. With a little bit of leadership, Israel could also easily raise its renewables target for 2020 from a paltry 10 percent to the modest European Union standard of 20%.
• Second, the government and the IDF should mandate that by 2015 20% of their fleets, paid for by our tax dollars, should be for electric vehicles. That alone could have saved Better Place, assuming the Transportation Ministry would allow the electric cars.
• Third, invest in energy storage. Imagine Israeli universities and the hi-tech sector incentivized and supported to crack affordable grid-level energy storage.
This would allow countries like Israel, which is 60% desert, to transform its energy sector from burning fossil fuels to providing renewables 24 hours a day. The economic impact, while saving the planet, could be even greater than the natural-gas find.
• Fourth, divest from oil. Ensure that state and other pension funds are not invested in oil companies, and call on the Jewish world to follow. In North America alone, the Jewish Federation endowments hold $15 billion, with investments in the oil sector dwarfing investments in Israel and in alternative energy.
The rabbis debated how to light the hanukkia, and this debate could be instructive to us. Shammai argued for the first night to have the full nine candles burning, reducing a candle each night. In other words, start off the holiday bright, and end in darkness. Hillel, however, won the day (and night), arguing that our mission is to celebrate the increasing of the light. Just as Judah the Maccabee successfully led a small group against a world power, it would be nice to see an enlightened Israel take on Big Oil by swapping oil for light in transportation and energy. Now that is a miracle worth fighting for and hopefully celebrating.
Recognized by CNN as one of the leading green pioneers worldwide, Yosef I. Abramowitz serves as CEO of Energiya Global Capital, a Jerusalem-based solar developer, and also served, briefly, as president of Better Place. He can be followed on Twitter @KaptainSunshine