Sunday solar power company CEO Kobi Dinar is thinking beyond the local scene

Israel, Jordan and Egypt could easily supply 10% of Europe's energy needs through Turkey pipeline project, Dinar says.

solar plant 88 224 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
solar plant 88 224
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
Kobi Dinar is an imposing-looking man - big and broad-shouldered with a shaved head. One could easily mistake him at first glance for a hard-bitten career IDF officer. In reality, Dinar has a background in clinical psychology, is surprisingly soft-spoken and got into the solar energy business for ideological reasons. There is one thing that goes along with his outsized body, however - his dreams and ambitions. Dinar is the CEO of a new photovoltaic (PV) solar energy company called Sunday. A successful international businessman, Dinar dreams of a solar-powered Middle East peace and of a substantial role for his company in the global PV energy market, he told The Jerusalem Post during a sit-down interview in Tel Aviv recently. "One of the biggest PV markets in the world is Germany, and yet Berlin has just a third the solar radiation that Mitzpe Ramon has," Dinar pointed out. There is no reason why Israel shouldn't at least be a leading incubator of solar technology, he said. He founded Sunday a year and a half ago to help do just that and the company began lining up deals in earnest with the approval of the first feed-in tariff for household production of PV solar energy in July. The major emerging markets Sunday is looking at, according to Dinar, are the western United States, Australia and Africa, which have the requisite large tracts of land and sunlight for large solar fields. In the Middle East, Dinar has looked beyond the borders of Israel to the regional potential of solar energy. "If Israel, Jordan and Egypt cooperated, we could easily supply 10 percent of Europe's energy needs via a [wire] pipeline through Turkey [that is in the planning stages]," he said. In fact, some Jordanians had approached him for consultations, he said. However, that dream is admittedly a distant one. In the meantime, Dinar is determined to capture a significant part of the Israeli market before it's too late. "In another year or two the market will coalesce. That's why there's a sense of urgency about everything Sunday does now," he said. Dinar has wasted little time. He announced investments in household PV solar production of NIS 500 million over the next two years as the solar operational arm of the Kibbutz Movement. He also won the contract to put solar panels on the roofs of Kiryat Ono's municipal buildings. However, that's small potatoes compared to what he would like to do all over the Negev and Arava. The company is aiming for a round of financing of €50m.-€100m. next year, he said, and was eagerly awaiting the feed-in tariff for medium-sized PV plants the National Infrastructures Ministry is scheduled to discuss and perhaps approve at the end of the month. Like other solar energy believers, Dinar sees little reason why solar energy shouldn't be Israel's main energy source. "Gas from Egypt is not secure, and the fastest thing to build is PV," he said. In fact, an Egyptian court ordered a halt to gas exports to Israel this week until the pricing was reexamined. So far, the supply has not been disrupted, however. Similarly, coal reserves are not extensive. What Israel does have, and in abundance, is sunlight. "I wanted to move from hi-tech to clean-tech and so I looked around for a market. I looked at wind, but there is no potential [in Israel]. I looked at solar and realized it had vast potential," Dinar said. He is also the CEO of HTR-Global Executive Search based in Palo Alto, California, and founded Jobinfo, Israel's largest staffing and recruiting firm. For Dinar, while his intention is to make money, there are undeniable strains of ideological commitment as well. For example, solar energy is also a potential social equalizer, he argued. "What is more attractive in terms of solar energy - hi-tech in Herzliya or a garage with a large roof in Dimona? Mitzpe Ramon, Yeroham and Dimona are much more attractive," he said. As with his other companies, 3% of all profits go to community projects. Moreover, with the right feed-in tariffs, Dinar argued, solar energy investment would be as stable as government bonds. A feed-in tariff is a subsidized rate the government commits to pay for electricity generated by PV solar energy for 20 years. While higher than the rate paid to the Israel Electric for power produced from fossil-fuel based sources such as oil, gas or coal, solar energy has the advantage of being renewable, environmentally friendly and secure. Dinar said he expected "green parity," where the two sources would be equal in price, to be reached by 2012 as the cost of PV dropped and the cost of fossil fuels rose. To carve out a niche in the market, Sunday has developed a new model with which to tempt investors. The company proposes to put panels on the roofs of agricultural buildings throughout the kibbutzim of the Negev. In return for 3%-6% of the profit from selling the electricity to the grid, kibbutzim would lease the roofs to the company, which would install the panels and hardware. In addition to solar plant construction, Dinar said he was looking into starting a solar panel production factory in Israel. "Egypt has one, Syria has one, but there isn't one in Israel," he said. However, the factory could only be built after the National Infrastructures Ministry approves the feed-in tariff for medium-sized plants from 50 KW to 5 MW, he said. The ministry has already worked out draft rates and terms for the tariff and is set to make a decision by month's end. At the end of the day, it is perhaps a good thing that Dinar's shoulders are so broad, considering the magnitude of the task he has set for himself and the Sunday Company.