Former general takes aim at renewable energy

While some of the activists there were promoting alternative energy options, from solar to wind to geothermal, Gen. Samia started his talk with a few simple questions.

samia 88 (photo credit: )
samia 88
(photo credit: )
When former OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yom Tov Samia spoke at a conference on alternative energy at Tel Aviv University on Wednesday, he brought a different perspective than many other participants. While some of the politicians and activists there were promoting alternative energy options, from solar to wind to geothermal, Samia started his talk with a few simple questions. "Is there a market for these technologies? Can we make money out of it? And if so, how do we do it?" Samia is the CEO of IC Green, a subsidiary of the Israel Corp. He made clear he believed that there was major market potential for efficient renewable energy production, and that the Israel Corp., which has a market value of some $10 billion, would be there to provide the capital. Indeed, Israel Corp., which is controlled by the billionaire Ofer family, has recently put $100 million into Better Place, Shai Agassi's venture to mass-market electric cars. But it will take much more than that to reach Samia's goal of getting IC Green into the top 12 renewable producers worldwide. Although he could not disclose figures, he sees IC Green, with Israel Corp. financial backing, eventually producing 5 percent of the world's renewable energy. "We are not venture capital," said Samia. "We are here to stay." He highlighted the challenges of moving into a field that had lots of bright ideas but few proven technologies. The key, he said, was to "be big or go home" - as reasonably priced renewable energy required economies of scale, but banks were unwilling to put together financing to match equity investment. The only option left was massive private investment, he said. IC Green's vision focuses on biofuels and solar power to reduce dependence on oil. The use of biofuels has recently been criticized for contributing to the global food crisis, as corn and sugarcane grown to be converted to ethanol fuel has been competing with food crops for land and other resources. Samia said the future of biofuels was in developing generations of biofuels that are not based on foodstuffs, especially from plants such as castor that are high in oil content and can be grown on marginal land that would otherwise have low agricultural output. IC Green's investment policy has been to avoid "first-generation biofuel" - ethanol from corn and sugarcane - and begin at the level of at least generation 1.5, which involves alternative plants, before moving to second generation production of biofuel from agricultural byproducts, Samia said. To that end, IC Green recently purchased an American company (led by an Israeli scientist) which has put nine years of research into using cellular waste to produce not only ethanol but gasoline and jet fuel. In terms of solar power, Samia said the company will be ready with systems that can produce electricity at a cost of 10-11 US cents/kwh once installed, rendering them competitive with nonrenewable alternatives.