Portuguese, Israeli officials promote hi-tech trade

Countries’ similar size and innovations make them natural allies in renewable energy, say entrepreneurs.

Solar Energy Development Center at Rotem Industrial Park 311 (photo credit: Courtesy Brightstar Energy / Eli Neeman)
Solar Energy Development Center at Rotem Industrial Park 311
(photo credit: Courtesy Brightstar Energy / Eli Neeman)
Due to their similar population size, inclinations toward innovation and diverse international market access, Israel and Portugal could benefit tremendously from partnerships in the renewable energy sector, officials from both places agreed on Monday.
“Portuguese companies see Israel as a hub for innovation also with a connection to the United States,” said Carlos Nuno Oliveira, Portugal’s secretary of state for entrepreneurship, competitiveness and innovation.
“Portugal should be seen as a platform to Latin America, especially to Brazil, and to Portuguese- speaking countries in Africa.”
Oliveira was addressing a group of Israeli and Portuguese officials and entrepreneurs, who had gathered to discuss future cooperation in the energy sector on Monday at the Tel Aviv and Central Israel Chamber of Commerce.
Both Portugal and Israel are “small-medium” sized countries with open economics, modern infrastructure and a strong focus on innovation, according to Oliveira. Joining the Portuguese delegation that day was also Miguel de Almeida e Sousa, the ambassador of Portugal to Israel.
“There are a lot of opportunities between Portugal and Israel, especially because now Portugal is starting to see more of the hitech field, the biotech field, the renewable energy field,” said Arie Zief, vice president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce (FICC).
The Portuguese government has instituted a strategic program for innovation, for which Israel has been an “inspiration,” and has also reformed its venture capital sector, Oliveira explained.
Portugal, he stressed, is a place filled with skilled human capital and could be an ideal match for Israeli researchers and entrepreneurs in the renewable sector.
“Our bilateral trade figures don’t really express the potential of what is yet to be had,” Oliveira said. “This is a first but very meaningful meeting here.”
“I think that this shows us how complimentary we can be,” De Almeida e Sousa added.
Oliveira then took it upon himself at the meeting to invite a delegation from the Israel Export Institute and the FICC to come on a mission to Portugal to meet with company representatives there.
Israel and Portugal have many avenues through which the countries could advance further renewable energy cooperation, two of which include direct bilateral agreements or going through the EUREKA intergovernmental program for research and development, said Ayala Karniol, energy sector director at the Israel and Europe Research and Development Directorate (ISERD). Another option would be applying for a joint research project through the Energy 2013 project FP7, the Seventh Framework Program of the European Union, Karniol added.
In the renewable energy sector, Portugal thus far excels most in hydroelectric and wind power development, with each accounting for about 51 percent and 41% of the country’s green energy production respectively, said Isabel Soares of the Portuguese Energy Agency. Like Israel, Portugal is still predominantly relying on imported fossil fuels, which powered 76.7% of the European country’s electricity supply in 2010, according to Soares.
Portugal is therefore committed to more and more switching over to renewable energy sources, including biofuels and solar, as well as improving energy efficiency, she said. The country’s Energy Policy – New Vision 2009 plan called for a steep reduction in energy use and increase in energy efficiency, with primary energy consumption reaching a 25% reduction in 2020 as compared to 2007 – 5% higher than the mandated European Union target, Soares stressed.
“Portugal has an ambitious energy sector with deployment of the renewable sectors and clean technologies but also several flagship projects on energy efficiency,” she said.
Oliveira said that he is talking throughout his delegation’s week in Israel to academics, researchers and policymakers, such as the ministers of science and technology and industry, trade and labor as well as officials from the Foreign Ministry.
“This is an official visit of the Portuguese government and I’m here to foster economic relationships with Israel in several sectors,” he told The Jerusalem Post after the event. “One of the sectors is renewable energies but we want to foster in other areas that can be mutual value to both countries.”
Portugal and Israel, he stressed, each place a great emphasis on innovation and developing cutting-edge technologies.
Together, the two countries can both develop their internal markets and approach international markets, according to Oliveira.
“We want to foster this relationship based on entrepreneurship,” he said.