Leading clean technology revolution?

Israeli expertise in alternative energy is becoming increasingly valuable.

delek gas station 88 298 (photo credit: )
delek gas station 88 298
(photo credit: )
With crude oil reaching $136.59 per barrel on Thursday and protests against fuel costs erupting across the globe, including truckers blocking the streets of Tel Aviv, Israel is beginning to recognize its potential leading role in the clean technology industry. Crude oil may reach $200 to $300 per barrel in the next five years, making the shift from petroleum dependency to alternative energy "inevitable," according to Harold Wiener, general partner of Terra Venture Partners, a Jerusalem-based venture capital company. Wiener said Wednesday he hoped oil prices would continue to rise, directing more funds to the development of alternative energy and bringing about a "clean technology revolution" by making it cheaper than oil. Developing technologies that use recycled water to produce electricity in microbial fuel cells and photovoltaic solar panels that can power individual homes and businesses, Israel is expected to play a leading role in the anticipated $10 billion clean energy industry, experts say. "We are facing a unique moment in which we can turn the fossil fuel world into a world of renewable energy," Weiner said. "We have all the data and the talent in Israel to make enormous contributions to the energy world." The newly founded Cleantech Israel business network held a meeting in Ramat Hasharon on Tuesday, and 130 people discussed the field's promising future. The government is also encouraging alternative energy, through tax breaks for hybrid cars, expanding public transportation and tenders for solar power. By the end of the next decade, Israel aims to produce 10 percent of electricity from alternative sources, compared to the current 3% to 4%, according to Hezi Kugler, director-general of the National Infrastructures Ministry. "The actions we've been actively pushing are to reduce the country's dependence on oil," Kugler said. "We set a target for the use of bio-fuels... putting a great deal of emphasis on solar energy and wind power." Israel hoped to provide energy at higher efficiency and at lower cost to the environment, said scientist and entrepreneur Issac Berzin, who is well known for his development of bio-fuel through algae. He is a senior faculty member at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. "[Israel] is leading in an essential tool," he said, citing the country's development in clean technology. "[This will] lead the world into the post-oil economy, which was developed out of a necessity and mainly for food crops. But [clean technologies are] the tools that the world is looking for." Berzin has proposed the creation of an Institute for Alternative Energy Policy in Israel, and the idea recently gained support from the US Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory. Israeli companies are leading innovators in geothermal and solar power, and in water technologies, through Ormat Technologies Inc., Solel and IDE Technologies Ltd., respectively. And universities such as the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot are preparing the next wave of innovators. "We're not solving the Israeli energy problem," Berzin said. "We're saving the world energy problem. It needs to be an international effort." Israel is collaborating with the United States to spark conversation among clean technology investors, entrepreneurs, companies and academic researchers. "Clean technology is a way for Israel to move ahead with its technologically advanced capabilities," said Gene Dolgin, an analyst at Israel Cleantech Ventures and cofounder of the Cleantech Israel business network with Jonathan Shapira. "The presence of clean technology will end up solving many of the natural resource issues that the country has had to deal with for the past 60 years. I think it will be a great building connection between the US and Israel, and a way of strengthening the community." The alliance hopes not only to develop technology and coordination between Israel and the United States, but also to encourage the American Jewish community to take a bigger role in the environmental movement, Shapira said. "We're talking about an effort on an individual institution scale," he said. "There are a lot of technologies that can be adopted from solar panels, low energy lighting, solar water heaters and small wind turbines on roofs." Shapira has been working in Israel, but will return to the US to work as a lawyer as well as continue promoting the alliance. He also recently established the Boston Israel Cleantech Alliance to promote connections between Cleantech investors and entrepreneurs in Boston and Israel. Clean technology created an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between Israel, the United States and the Diaspora, Shapira said, adding that Israel and America will now have an "equal partnership" in their development of renewable energy. Michael Granoff, head of oil independence policies for Project Better Place - a company that hopes to reduce petroleum dependency through the use of electric cars - said that Israel had long been an innovator in renewable energy through solar power and water recycling. Israel was the first country to partner with Project Better Place in hopes of moving away from dependency on oil. "I think that in the last few centuries, mankind has innovated at an incredible pace and has made amazing progress in means of raising standards of living, but without regard to pollution, scarcity and sustainability," Granoff said. "And now we find ourselves in a situation where we have high living standards, but we realize it is not sustainable and cannot be brought to the rest of the world population." "The 21st century will be [about] how we democratize energy, which will make this living standard sustainable and enable it to spread to a much grater population," he said. "I think Israel is well positioned to ride this wave, which is not a trend, but will be a century-long endeavor."