JNF WIRE: Oil Spill Underscores Urgency at Israeli Conference on Green Energy
December 29, 2014
Adam H. Brill, Director of Communications
OIL SPILL UNDERSCORES URGENCY AT ISRAELI CONFERENCE ON GREEN ENERGY
Regional Center for Research, Development & Renewable Energy Opens
By: June Glazer
The ribbon cutting ceremony for new Regional Collaboration Center for Research, Development & Renewable Energy in Eilat.
The worst oil spill in Israel's history was the accidental backdrop for an international conference on green energy held this month in Eilat, the country's southernmost city. A busy port and popular resort located at the northern tip of the Red Sea, Eilat is at the epicenter of Israel's renewable energy industry.
The Eilat-Eilot Green Energy 6th International Conference and Exhibition was the culmination of six events that comprised Israel Energy Week and which offered participants from around the globe a concentrated encounter with the emerging world of alternative energy in Israel. The conference, held Dec. 7-9, focused on challenges facing the renewable energy industry today, including storage and supply of electricity, development of methods to manage electricity flow, and financing to advance projects.
It also focused on the key role renewable energy plays in the southern Arava, a stretch of Negev Desert from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba in which Eilat and the Hevel Eilot Regional Council are located. This arid, sun-drenched area is Israel's main locale for sustainable development and functions as an international showcase for Israeli innovation in the field of green energy.
"Renewable energy, with an emphasis on solar, is a major focus of our municipal activity and plays a key role in the region as a whole," said Meir Yitzhak Halevi, mayor of Eilat, in his greeting message to conference attendees. "The city of Eilat and the Hevel Eilot Regional Council, which together account for 13 percent of Israel's land area but less than one percent of the country's population, have recognized the potential offered by the sunlight and open space that exist here in such abundance and are concentrating on renewable energy as a catalyst for regional growth."
According to Udi Gat, head of the Hevel Eilot Regional Council, the area has already reached nearly 60 percent daytime energy independence, and in eight months will generate nearly 100 percent of the energy consumed each day in the southern Arava. By 2020, the municipality and regional council anticipate that the area will be completely energy-independent and free of fossil fuel and carbon emissions.
"We want to generate more electricity, even beyond the needs of Eilat and of the regional council. We want to help the country produce electricity from an inexpensive source—the sun—and to be Israel's electricity storehouse or 'bank,'" Gat said in his greeting message.
The importance of achieving energy independence was brought home to the conference in a dramatic way when, four days prior to its start an oil pipeline ruptured during maintenance work at a construction site 20 kilometers north of Eilat. Five million liters of crude oil spilled out and fouled an estimated 1,000 dunams (about 250 acres) of scenic desert including a nature reserve. Delicate coral reefs beyond the nearby shoreline were also threatened.
The work area is the site of a future international airport to serve the southern Arava. Nearly one week following the spill, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured the area and, according to news reports, said that at the moment the situation appeared to be “under control.”
“Everyone's big concern is a loss of control by large floods that can take the oil south to Eilat and the Eilat Gulf. Actions were taken here to prevent that, and up until now they have succeeded,” the prime minister was reported as saying.
While fears of an environmental catastrophe seem to have abated for now, the accident underscored the potentially destructive nature of oil dependency and the need to shift to sustainable sources. Yet, not everyone at the conference seemed convinced that a total shift is feasible.
"The spill was a disaster," said Russell F. Robinson, CEO at Jewish National Fund (JNF), who was a speaker at the conference. "Still, I don't think we're ever going to see crude oil and fossil fuel completely replaced by renewable energy. We can't convert large cities overnight. Instead, we need to strike a balance. Renewable energy can make a difference in smaller areas, like neighborhoods and communities. On the other hand, we need to come up with better safeguards to protect against these kinds of accidents in the future," he said.
Over the past several years, JNF has invested a million dollars in developing renewable energy in Israel as part of its Blueprint Negev plan, which calls for bringing 500,000 new residents to the Negev. To that end, the organization, which underwrote part of the Eilat-Eilot conference, supports various projects to enhance the quality of life in the Southern Arava, including those related to renewable energy.
One of these projects is the new Regional Collaboration Center for Research and Development and Renewable Energy, an office hub and testing lab specifically designed for startup companies. It is located at Kibbutz Yotvata outside of Eilat and is expected to be ready for occupancy in about a month.
"The area is perfect for us," said conference exhibitor Or Yoged, who was among the invited guests at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to inaugurate the Center. Founder and CEO of Augwind, a three-year-old startup that synergizes wind and solar energy, he plans to relocate his company there from its current base in central Israel. "This facility will help young entrepreneurs like me to implement our dreams. The environment will encourage collaboration that will help incubate all of our projects," he said.
Ilan Ben-David, CEO of Chakratec, a producer of electricity storage batteries and another conference exhibitor, said he intends to maintain his company headquarters near Tel Aviv but plans to make the Center his testing lab. "When we first started out, there were only three companies investing in energy. Energy is a very difficult field in which to raise money. Now, because of this Center and the focus of the municipality on clean energy, we plan to have a long-term relationship with the region."
Ben-David added that, "This facility will help Israel develop technologies that will not only benefit Israelis, but can be exported especially to China, India, and Africa, where the interest in green energy is great. There is a huge future for us in these markets," he said.
"Renewable energy is about how to get people to move to different places," Robinson noted. "If we want them to move to the Negev, we need to develop technologies that will lower the cost of energy, especially as it relates to water recycling. If we can produce enough energy cheaply, we can settle people anywhere in the desert."
"How close is this reality?
"I think if you look at the Eilat and Eilot region and see what they have accomplished, you'll realize that it can be done," Robinson said. "Since the first of these Eilat-Eilot conferences was held, solar sources have come to supply 60 percent of the Eilat region's daytime energy consumption. That means that every day they turn on a grid that provides them with enough electricity to meet all of their daytime needs. Just a few years ago, who would have guessed that could happen?"
# # #
JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.
JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.
JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.
For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit www.jnf.org.