Israel’s clean tech advances attract foreign investors’ green
TEL AVIV (JTA) — From cutting-edge geothermal power deep underground to wind turbines and solar panels capturing energy from the sky above, foreign investors are pouring money into Israel’s growing clean tech sector.
And it’s not just Jews.
“Every day I get calls from people asking for opportunities to invest in clean technologies in Israel,” said Michael Granoff, president of the New York-based Maniv Energy Capital and an investor in Project Better Place, the company working to make Israel a testing ground for an electric car.
“That to me is extremely encouraging,” he said. “I believe nothing will determine Israel’s prosperity more than the degree to which it is a leader in innovation around sustainability.”
Clean tech, a catch-all term for emerging technologies focused on renewable and more efficient energy consumption, is soaring in Israel. A wave of new start-ups, academic research projects and new venture capital funds are focusing on the industry, and multinational corporations such as the Coca-Cola Co. and General Electric are scouting out new technologies here.
Fueling the interest in environmentally friendly clean-tech solutions are skyrocketing oil prices, growing concerns about global warming and a push for sustainable solutions to the world’s energy problems.
Investing in Israel’s expertise may not only make good business sense but benefit the worldwide quest for cleaner, greener energy alternatives.
It also may constitute an opportunity to bolster Israel’s international reputation by linking the Jewish state with green innovation.
Jonathan Shapira, a recent American law school graduate who writes a blog on clean-tech investment in Israel, says Diaspora Jews can play an essential role by becoming either consumers of or investors in Israeli technologies.
“Every Jewish family and institution should consider installing solar panels, rooftop wind turbines or energy efficient lighting developed in Israel,” he said. “This will lower their electricity bill, protect the environment, benefit the Israeli economy and help position Israel as a world leader in clean technology.”
The imperative for developing alternative energy sources is particularly acute for Israel because its enemies’ strength derives in large part from the world’s dependence on their oil resources.
“It really makes sense for reasons of economics, but there is also the issue that so much is at stake here,” said David Rosenblatt, the vice chairman of the board of a new solar power company near Eilat, Arava Power, which is headed by Yosef Abramowitz. “This is doing something for Israel’s national security, protecting its energy independence through green power.”
Rosenblatt, who also runs an investment fund in New York, where he lives, said his investment in Arava Power is a Jewish venture as well.
“This is about clean energy, but it’s also about Jewish roots and what I can do to express it and where I personally have value to add,” he told JTA.
In Herzliya, three American immigrants in their 30s have created the first venture capital firm to target the Israeli clean-tech market, Israel Cleantech Ventures. They recently raised $75 million for their debut fund, exceeding the $60 million they originally set out to raise.
Glen Schwaber, one of the firm’s partners, said enthusiasm among investors for Israeli clean tech reflects Israel’s growing reputation as a potential incubator for new technologies that is buoyed by the country’s high-tech success stories.
“Israel has a reputation for innovation and technology, and a mature venture capital environment along with a successful history in entrepreneurship,” Schwaber said. “The next logical place for the clean-tech investor after Silicon Valley and the Boston area is Israel.”
The Jewish state is beginning to capitalize on its experience in such fields as solar thermal technology, wastewater recycling and desalination. Until recently, Israel had the world’s only large-scale desalination plant, off the coast of Ashkelon. Now countries such as China are building them.
“Israel is a great country to beta test some of these new technologies because it is a microcosm of the world’s needs: shortages of water, a large transportation fleet on per-capita basis, and an abundance of solar energy potential,” said Schwaber, 38, who made aliyah from Boston.
Among Cleantech Ventures’ investors are some big names in Jewish philanthropy, including the families of Edgar Bronfman and Stacy Schusterman.
Schusterman, CEO of the Samson Investment Co., a private oil and gas company based in Tulsa, Okla., said she sees her investments in Israeli clean-tech ventures, including Israel’s electric car enterprise, as business, not philanthropy.
“This is a business venture,” she told JTA in a phone interview from Tulsa. “We saw this as an opportunity to leverage Israel’s deep intellectual capital in an area we see as a burgeoning worldwide industry, and by investing it we would have the opportunity to create a hedge against our base business.”
She added, “This is an area where Israel should excel, so as a Jew I have every reason to help make that happen.”
Last month, the city of Los Angeles signed an agreement with Kinrot Incubator, a company located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that helps entrepreneurs and researchers with water-based technological innovations.
The deal will enable Israeli start-up companies to use water and power facilities in Los Angeles for pilot projects and to conduct joint research with the University of California, Los Angeles on water projects.
Los Angeles is interested in using the Kinrot model to establish its own incubator for water-related technologies.
Assaf Barnea, Kinrot’s CEO, said that although the water market is not new, the hype over going green has given it a new shine in the eye of investors.
“They have now heard about it and want to be players,” he said. “There is huge hype but it’s not just hype. This is a market that is here to stay.”
Israel Invests in Clean Tech as energy Crunch Looms
At a lab in Rehovot, the man who developed the Arrow missile is consumed with his next mission: making Israel energy independent by using cheap solar power.
“The issue of energy is the greatest danger to Israel, because in 30 years there will be no energy means, no oil and no gas, and the use of coal will be prohibited,” said Dov Raviv, now the CEO of MST, an Israeli renewable energy company. “Without energy Israel cannot survive, and we must find a substitute and find it fast. That is what I am trying to do.”
Raviv’s company is working to reduce the high price of solar power, which is not yet competitive with the price of conventional energy sources like oil, by more efficiently harnessing solar energy through a method of concentrating sunlight on a matrix of single solar cells.
MST is one of dozens of alternative energy start-ups across Israel seeking solutions to the global energy crisis.
Among the innovations under development are a gear system that dramatically boosts the efficiency of wind turbines, a device that would reduce gas emissions from trucks, the generation of bio-fuels from desert plants and various techniques to generate energy from unlikely sources, including seaweed and sewage water.
Entrepreneurs say Israeli solutions can help not only Israel but also the world.
“Israel has the minds, the R&D, the technology and the entrepreneurship, but we are lagging behind in terms of actual deployment,” said David Schwartz, the chairman of MyPlanet, an Israeli consortium of companies involved in energy and security issues. “This is impeding reaching our full potential as a source of alternative energy for the world.”
Israel’s leadership in the development of alternative energy also can have security benefits. If the world is weaned from its overwhelming dependence on oil, the oil-rich autocratic regimes that surround the Jewish state, including Iran, will have less oil revenue to pay for their anti-Israel activities — whether the development of nuclear weapons or the funding of fundamentalist terrorist groups.
During a recent visit to Israel to accept the $1 million Dan David Award for promoting environmental awareness, Al Gore asked a question many Israelis have been pondering themselves: “How is it here, in the land of the sun, there is no widespread use of solar energy?”
Alternative energy is “good for the Jews,” Gore told a conference on the subject at Tel Aviv University.
Industry observers say more aggressive government policies, such as underwriting renewable energy initiatives and granting more land for power plants, are needed to bolster the development of alternative energy.
“Europe and the U.S. have made incredible strides,” Schwartz said. “Israel has not.”
Meanwhile, Israel has an energy shortage looming. Israel’s supply capacity is 10,600 megawatts per day, and the country has come dangerously close to exceeding that demand on especially hot and cold days.
With limited energy reserves to accommodate for surges, and as the country’s population and energy use grows, the problem is becoming more acute.
The head of the Israel Energy Forum, Yael Cohen-Paran, says some relatively simple measures could significantly reduce the load on the energy grid: cash rebates for those who purchase energy-efficient air conditioning and heating units, and government encouragement of energy-saving building practices.
The long-term solution, however, may require more of a shift.
At the Tel Aviv energy conference, Israel’s infrastructure minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, responded to criticism of government policy on the issue by announcing a commitment to increase the share of such energies to 15 percent to 20 percent of Israel’s total energy use by 2020, double that of previous targets.
He also pledged to adopt a plan to build one new solar station per year for the next 20 years and introduce a bill to make the Negev Desert and southern Israel a “national preference region” for renewable energies. Tax breaks and other incentives would be part of the package.
Yossi Abramowitz, the president of Arava Power, wants to install 62,500 solar panels by year’s end on the sun-drenched sands of Israel’s deserts. He says his company has found investors to pay for solar power stations that would be capable of supplying up to 500 megawatts of electricity for the country — nearly 5 percent of Israel’s daily energy needs during daylight hours.
The project relies on the use of photovoltaics, or PV, a relatively expensive technology that uses a fraction of the silicon used in conventional solar panels to convert sunlight-generated photons into energy.
But for this energy to be competitive on the open market, the government needs to double its current rate of subsidy, Abramowitz says, bringing Israel more in line with the levels of subsidy in countries such as Germany and Spain.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev recently announced a new deal with Israeli start-up Zenith Solar to license solar energy technology developed by its researchers that could revolutionize the way solar power is collected and drastically reduce its price.
The new method, a form of “concentrated PV,” would use fewer of the expensive silicon solar cells to create energy. Instead it would use low-cost glass mirrors to collect sunlight and then focus it onto a relatively small amount of those solar cells to generate power.
The Israeli founder of an algae fuel company called GreenFuel, Isaac Berzin, who was named by Time magazine as one of its Top 100 people in the world for 2008, says Israel is too small of a country to keep such technology to itself.
“Israel should be a catalyst for change,” Berzin said. “Israel is a very small market, a very small place in the middle of nowhere, but it has here what it takes in terms of technology, the know-how to change the world.”
Israel, U.S. Act on Request for Renewable Energy
Israel and the United States will pool their scientific brainpower to find and develop alternative energy sources under a bill passed by the House and now wending its way through the Senate.
Under the proposed U.S.-Israel Energy Cooperation Act, scientists and engineers from both countries would focus on research, development and commercial use of renewable energy from solar, wind, hydrogen and biofuel sources.
The act would appropriate $20 million annually through 2012 for grants to researchers at universities and business enterprises, awarded by a newly established International Energy Advisory Board in the U.S. Department of Energy.
All the funds are to come from the United States.
In a rare display of bipartisanship, the energy act was introduced by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Rep. John Shadegg (R-Phoenix), and approved by an overwhelming voice vote in the House last month.
Essentially the same bill has been sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and 14 of his colleagues. Although the bill faces the usual committee and appropriations hurdles, Smith’s spokesman, R.C. Hammond, expressed confidence that the measure would pass the full Senate by the end of the current session.
The act received a boost from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during his May 24 address to a joint session of Congress, when he stressed America and Israel’s common “desire for energy security” and praised the pending legislation.
Ron Dermer, minister of economic affairs at the Israeli embassy in Washington, said that the act would build on previous collaboration through the U.S.-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation.
Dermer also pointed to the large pool of Israeli scientific talent, such as at the Weizmann Institute of Science, and its ability to tackle new research fields.
Similarly, Sherman noted past technological collaboration between the two countries, as in the development of the Arrow missile, and Israeli pioneer work in developing more efficient batteries, solar energy and fuel cells.
In the language of the bill, he and Shadegg stressed that energy independence was “in the highest national security interest of the United States,” and warned that the U.S. now imports from foreign countries 58 percent of its oil.
Such dependence will increase by 33 percent over the next 20 years, the legislators projected, with some of the exporting countries using their profits to fund terrorism and hostile propaganda.
In a phone interview, Sherman said that when he introduced a similar measure last year, it died in committee hearing, contrasted to the overwhelming support this year.
He paid special tribute to the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress), which has been lobbying for effective energy legislation for many years and has mobilized public support for the House measure.
Gary P. Ratner, AJCongress western regional executive director, said that his national organization had sent e-mails to some 25,000 members in support of the House bill. He urged that voters now contact their senators to advocate passage of Senate Bill 1862.
AJCongress National Executive Director Neil B. Goldstein said he was optimistic that the legislation would be passed by the Senate and signed by President Bush, noting that Senate majority leaders Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) had expressed interest in presenting the bill to the full Senate for an early vote.In a related development, American and Israeli business, academic and financial leaders will meet in Tel Aviv on Nov. 8 for a high-level Alternative and Renewable Energy Conference, according to Shai Aizin, Israel West Coast consul for economic affairs.
For information on the conference, call (323) 658-7924, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Anchors Let Slip Plaintiff’s Name
Two Israeli radio disc jockeys were suspended for broadcasting the first name of a woman who alleges that President Moshe Katsav sexually assaulted her. Shai Goldstein and Dror Raphael, irreverent anchors on Tel Aviv Radio, were suspended for a week following a recent surprise phone call they made on air to the former Katsav aide, who previously had been identified in the media only by her first initial “A” due to the sensitivity of the case. Before she hung up on the duo, they used her full first name. The radio station apologized for the indiscretion but noted that the name is so common in Israel that the chance that the woman had been unmasked was slim. Shai and Dror, as they are popularly known, are famous for their broadcast pranks, which have included making crank calls to Israeli leaders and even enemy countries like Iran and Iraq.
Olmert Limits Inquiry Into War
Ehud Olmert announced that his government would conduct a limited inquiry into Israel’s handling of the Lebanon war. The prime minister said Monday that a former Mossad chief, Nahum Admoni, would lead the government-appointed commission to investigate whether the military and political echelons mishandled the 34-day offensive against Hezbollah. Olmert’s decision fell short of the independent judicial commission that his opponents had called for, and which might have had the power to recommend the prime minister’s resignation. Olmert said such a probe would take too long and would neglect the need to rehabilitate Israel’s defense apparatus ahead of possible future conflicts with Hezbollah or its patron, Iran.
Poll: Israelis Want Olmert Resignation
Sixty-three percent of Israelis want Ehud Olmert to resign, according to a new poll. Results of the Yediot Achronot poll, released Friday, showed for the first time that a majority of Israelis favor the resignation of the prime minister, elected in March, because of his handling of Israel’s war with Hezbollah. The poll showed 45 percent backing Benjamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister who heads the Likud Party.
New Orleans Shul Dedicates New Torah
A New Orleans synagogue that lost its Torah scrolls to flooding dedicated a new scroll for the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. On Sunday, Congregation Beth Israel dedicated a scroll donated by the Los Angeles Jewish community through a fundraising drive by 16-year-old Hayley Fields of Hancock Park, who raised $18,000 to buy the Torah. Seven ruined Torah scrolls were recovered and buried after last year’s flood. National Council of Young Israel, the Orthodox umbrella body, facilitated the dedication.
Argentine Jews Complain Over Blocked Protest
Argentine Jewish leaders met with the country’s interior minister after left-wing activists prevented Jews from holding a demonstration against Iran.Luis Grynwald, president of the community’s central AMIA institution, and Jorge Kirszenbaum, president of the DAIA political umbrella group, talked with Anibal Fernandez for more than an hour Friday morning about an incident Thursday in which the Quebracho group blocked a street where Jews were to demonstrate. Many saw the move as anti-Semitic.
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Reduce Oil Demand
The following are remarks and an amendment introduced by
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on March 19 to the House Energy Subcommittee that
propose an alternative energy strategy for the United States.
Mr. Chairman, I’d like to offer the “Keeping Faith With Our
American Soldiers” Amendment, which is at the desk.
In the next few days, more than 200,000 young American men
and women are stepping forward to defend freedom. They stand ready, if they
have to, to put their lives on the line and make the ultimate sacrifice for our
None of us in this room or in Washington are standing in
their shoes. We don’t face a fraction of the risks they do. So it is our
responsibility — in fact, our obligation — to make sure we are standing behind
them in every way possible.
Of course, our most basic duty is making sure we do all we
can to keep them out of harm’s way. They are ready to sacrifice everything; our
job is to do everything we can to make that sacrifice unnecessary.
That’s why I’m offering this amendment today. A few weeks
ago [Louisiana Republican] Rep. Tauzin noted that it was “insane” that we were
sending $20 million a day to Iraq even as the United States prepares to attack.
Well, it is obscene that we’ve been sending over $5 billion
per year to Iraq, and it’s dangerous that so many people in our country believe
this war is about oil.
My amendment helps make sure that war in the Middle East
will not be about oil. It says to our young men and women that they will not
have to risk their lives for oil. And it makes sure that American dollars
aren’t financing repressive, anti-democratic regimes in the Middle East.
Our nation produces 3 percent of the world’s oil, but we
consume 25 percent of the world’s oil. That dependence on foreign oil is bad
for us and also stifling to political and economic progress in the
oil-exporting nations. The oil nations in the Mideast are the richest countries
in the world, with the poorest, most disenfranchised people.
Today, more than 70 percent of all exports and investment in
the Arab world are tied to the oil industry. Those governments have had no
incentive to invest in other industrial sectors, in education, or to diversify
their workforce with women. Their unwillingness to modernize is a driving force
behind the unemployment, unrest and resentment feeding Islamic extremism.
My amendment is a small but important step in changing that
reality. It requires the federal government to propose, finalize and implement
a plan to reduce U.S. demand for oil by 600,000 barrels a day. This is the
average amount of oil we have imported every day from Iraq over the past five
The amendment focuses on oil consumption by all sectors of
the economy. This allows the administration to seek the oil reductions in the
smartest ways possible. Improving CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy]
standards is one option, but vehicles subject to CAFE only represent 40 percent
of our oil consumption. This amendment will allow the agencies to focus on all
sources and come up with the best plan possible to increase efficiencies and
And if the agencies’ existing authorities are inadequate, it
expressly allows the agencies to request new authorities from Congress.
A couple of years ago, Vice President Cheney told California
that we couldn’t conserve our way out of the energy crisis. But here’s what
happened in California: Energy companies manipulated supply and prices went
through the roof. Gov. Davis challenged Californians to reduce demand by 10
percent. And with no lead time to make and execute plans, Californians reduced
demand by more than 10 percent. Despite widespread criminal conduct by energy
executives, we were able to conserve our way out of that crisis.
It was a remarkable effort that for reasons I don’t
understand, almost no one in Washington wants to acknowledge.
My amendment requires far less of all Americans. It
translates to a 2.5 percent reduction in oil demand, and we allow for a year to
finalize a plan and six years to implement it.
In absolute terms, this is a modest amendment. It asks
almost nothing from those of us who remain safe at home while our troops risk
their lives. But in symbolic terms for the young men and women preparing to
fight in Iraq, the significance of this amendment is incalculable.
If this subcommittee isn’t ready for this small step, I
don’t know how we can look our brave men and women in the eye when they come
I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.
Democrat Henry Waxman represents the 30th District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives.