Israel 'on verge of becoming world leader in cleantech'

Most products implemented only abroad, but more pilot projects help deal with local problems.

cleantech 88 (photo credit: )
cleantech 88
(photo credit: )
There are two stages in the life of any technology - development and implementation. According to analysts, Israel is becoming a world leader in developing clean technologies and, little by little, more of those technologies are being used to solve this country's own environmental challenges. Isaac Berzin, one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the sciences last year due to his work on using algae to take greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and convert them to fuel, told The Jerusalem Post that even if the technologies were not implemented here, just developing them here was enough. "Being a light unto the nations is exactly the place of Israel - that is our role. Our knowledge is implemented elsewhere and that's a wonderful thing," said Berzin, who is putting together an energy policy analysis center at the IDC. "Our strength is not implementation, but creation and innovation. For example, Ormat [a company that utilizes geothermal energy to generate power] has no installations here, but the technology was developed here and the training school is here," he said. Berzin compared the cleantech boom to the hi-tech boom. Most of the software developed in Israel has been implemented elsewhere, he said. Moreover, "Israel should be a world leader - creating the solutions the world is looking for. Investments are coming to Israel [as a result] and lots of jobs are created. "Let's say you develop a major solar technology, which is cost effective etc. What's the demand for electricity in Israel? A small fraction of world demand. If your only output is Israel then you are in trouble. Hi-tech was great for Israel. Where were the markets? Out there, which is absolutely fine," he stated. However, Berzin admitted that there were steps Israel could take to solve its own problems through this development explosion. "There are things that Israel could do to become a world leader while solving its own problems. Let's say Israel wants to produce electricity from solar [power]. There are two options: build ten solar facilities using the same technology, or build the same facilities using ten different technologies. The second option would make you the biggest solar park in the world, the mecca of solar [power]. People would come to check out all the options and that is where Israel should be smart in its choices," he told the Post. Even as Israeli companies search out bigger and better markets than the local one, more and more are actually creating pilot facilities here which could help Israel curb its pollution and move toward renewable energy, Israel Cleantech Ventures general partner Jack Levy told the Post. Levy argued that Israeli companies were actually making big strides at home in the solar and water purification markets. "The good news as a citizen is that things are changing. Most important, maybe, is solar power. Israel is clearly on the path to developing a local solar [power] market and one that supports both large-scale and household use. We are becoming a technological global leader in large-scale solar power, and it is also an opportunity for local markets to tap in," he said. Israel Cleantech Ventures is a venture capital firm focused mainly on Israel's cleantech industry. Solar markets have developed fastest in places with government incentives, Levy noted. The government recently approved a feed-in tariff for household production of solar energy where residents could sell electricity back the grid. National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has promised to build one solar plant a year for the next ten years as well. Israel has long been a purchaser of its own water technologies, most of which emerged in response to local need, Levy said. "In the water sector also, larger companies like Netafim grew up out of local market. Dorot grew up around Netafim to provide valves. A company that we invest in which does water purification, AqWise, has 40 global installations but a couple in Israel as well. They announced today [Sunday] they were going to build a new installation on the Golan Heights," he said. Levy also cited such companies as Shai Agassi's Better Place, which chose Israel as its first market for the electric car. The government also has a clear role in helping to encourage implementation of cleantech locally, Levy said. "I've spoken to entrepreneurs who every now and again have said, 'if we had a ministry with stronger enforcement, then I could have sold much more.' Here too, that might be changing, especially with regard to air pollution," Levy said in reference to the recently passed Clean Air Act. "We need more and better enforcement, and hopefully that will create a market here. Technologies that treat air and water quality run to markets where regulatory pressures are greatest and companies are facing pressure to comply. That is changing here too," he added. "The more we do it, the more we'll benefit from it. Germany massively incentivized solar energy and ended up with a significant PV industry and lots of use," Levy noted. One area that often doesn't get discussed, he said, are the health aspects and impact on the Treasury. The Reading power station was converted to natural gas to reduce air pollution in the Dan region. Health aspects should play a large part in assessing whether it is worth it to implement clean technologies, he added.