Cleantech faces wave of growth, not layoffs

'This field is just taking off. It's the only industry that is looking to hire more people,' Orit Marom Albeck says.

hi tech 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
hi tech 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
While local industry and the hi-tech world shudder under wave after wave of layoffs, cleantech is on the rise, several of those heavily involved in the industry told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. Orit Marom Albeck, a partner in the Shibolet law firm's CleanTech Practice Group, said there was no comparison between hi-tech and cleantech. "There is no wave of layoffs and investment continues," she told the Post. "I don't think the comparison is valid [between the two fields]. Cleantech is comprised of small companies just starting out. It is on the rise. The market is relatively active compared to hi-tech. Investing continues, perhaps companies and funds take a little longer to decide to invest, but it is definitely continuing." "Cleantech is not like hi-tech which was at its height and now there are layoffs. It is a field that is just taking off," she added. Eitan Parnass, head of the Association of Renewable Energy Companies in Israel, predicted the cleantech industry in Israel would continue to grow despite the global financial crisis. "There aren't any layoffs; rather it's the opposite: This is the only industry that is looking to hire more people. There's a demand for more people," he told the Post. Several renewable energy fields could be on the cusp of a major hiring cycle, he said. "In the photovoltaic household installation market, there are 34 companies of about five people each. As soon as banks are willing to lend money to citizens to enable them to install these systems, then all the companies will need to hire more people. "The 20 wind companies in Israel haven't really taken off yet. But once the feed-in tariff is approved, hopefully in a few weeks or months, then all the companies will be hiring. Similarly, the solar thermal market has room for hundreds if not thousands of new workers," he said. Specifically in a recession, he continued, the field of energy efficiency and energy savings could really grow. Moreover, "the world is talking about energy infrastructure projects as the way out of the recession. Well, Israel could really play a role in those projects, something which we haven't really done to date," according to Parnass. Nisha marketing director Roie Shiloah also concurred that they did not expect a round of layoffs. Nisha is a human resources agency with a focus on cleantech. "We don't expect layoffs for one simple reason: the market is not developed enough. It is a growing market. At every conference, they repeat the same message - that there is investment available," she said. "We've actually seen a rise in companies looking to hire people because it's not easy to find qualified personnel," Shiloah added. Israel Cleantech Ventures general partner Jack Levy was slightly more pessimistic but said that, with the right stimulus package, the industry could definitely grow. "The cleantech sector is by no means immune to the slowdown," Levy said. "However, many other countries, like the US and China, have proposed or passed stimulus packages heavily weighted towards incentivizing energy efficiency, and alternative energy. That will in many ways mitigate the slowdown and in some instances have the opposite effect and actually generate investment." "Brightsource Energy/Luz II has been very vocal in saying how the stimulus package has aided them. That will have an impact on us because I don't know how many they employ at Har Hotzvim Industrial Park in Jerusalem, but they have certainly been one of the fastest growing employers in Israel in the past two years," Levy added. At the same time, he acknowledged that in the current climate there could be many startups which would fail, whereas in a more optimistic clime they might have survived and thrived. Levy called on the government to continue its support for cleantech and even increase support in the context of future stimulus packages. "The Chief Scientists' Offices have been supportive of R&D efforts, and I would encourage the government to do the same in additional stimulus packages," Levy said. He also noted that there were few cleantech companies which employed hundreds of people, so any layoffs would necessarily be smaller. "But there's been a focus on this industry in the past few years, its strong future and strong will to lead," he said, so with a stimulus package layoffs could be prevented.