Industry execs: Hollande visit shows increased potential for French-Israeli cooperation on new technologies

EDF-EN Israel has invested 250m. euros in 11 solar energy projects throughout the Negev.

Netanyahu Peres and Hollande at innovation conference 370 (photo credit: Tomriko/pool, Yediot Aharonot)
Netanyahu Peres and Hollande at innovation conference 370
(photo credit: Tomriko/pool, Yediot Aharonot)
The visit of French President François Hollande and a senior business delegation this week is indicative of the country’s interest in investing in Israeli technologies, a French-Israeli energy executive told The Jerusalem Post.
Hollande arrived “with a clear message that it is the French government’s strategy to invest in Israel and to have French public-owned companies invest,” Ayalon Alain Vaniche, of CEO EDF-EN Israel, part of the renewable energy branch of French energy giant Electricite de France, said on Monday.
Although French companies have invested in Israel for quite some time, the entrance of state-sponsored firms has only just begun, Vaniche explained.
His own firm, EDF-EN Israel, which is 85 percent state-owned, entered Israel comparatively early, in 2009.
“It has been a normal place for private companies quite long ago, but it’s an important message also for Israelis to see these large companies,” he said.
Despite only officially launching a subsidiary in Israel in 2009, EDF experts have been working with colleagues at the Israel Electric Corporation for 40 years, according to Vaniche.
“Twenty years ago EDF was where IEC is today in terms of organization,” he said, stressing that deep changes hit the French electricity market with the introduction of industry competition. “I am sure people here understand what they have to gain from this model.”
EDF-EN Israel has invested 250 million euros so far in 11 Negev solar energy projects that will have a total production capacity of 160 megawatts – what Vaniche describes as “a good share of Israeli renewable energies.”
Two of these facilities are completely built, while another two will reach completion over the next couple of months, he said. Two other particularly large projects have just begun and will be built over 2014 and 2015, he added.
Although the first two completed fields have passed all the necessary examinations and are fully ready to produce electricity, they have not received the final approval necessary to begin commercial production from the IEC, Vaniche said.
“This is just electricity lost,” he said.
Despite his frustrations over “a very classical disconnection between administration and companies,” Vaniche stressed that he has hopes that full commercial production will begin soon.
From the private side of the French energy investment camp, venture capitalist Jean- Marc Bally said he and his peers have more and more grown to recognize Israel as “one of the key players in the field of new technologies.”
Bally is a managing partner at Aster Capital, a venture capital firm with more than $200m. invested in the energy and environment sectors, sponsored by Schneider Electric, Alstom, Solvay and the European Investment Fund. In addition to its investments in North America, Europe, China and Japan, Aster Capital last year made its first investment in an Israeli firm, the Beit Shemeshbased Atlantium Technologies, which focuses on water disinfection.
For Atlantium and the other Israeli companies that Aster Capital hopes to finance in the future, the firm aims to leverage commercial opportunities, Bally told the Post on Tuesday.
Israeli companies that Aster Capital is exploring include some involved in cyber-security as well as others that perform data analytics in the energy field, Bally explained. The venture capital firm has already succeeded in partnering an Israeli company with Alstom, he added.
“We are looking for the best companies we can find,” he said.
Like Vaniche, Bally sees the French business delegation that has accompanied Hollande as a sign of emerging cooperation between the countries, particularly in the area of new technology.
Until recently, he explained, France had not been paying enough attention to Israel, and Israel had been devoting more of its attention to the United States.
“You have to create the willingness and the opportunities to reach the people in those countries,” he said.