Impressions of the Eilat Energy Conference in Israel

Two things were clear from attending the International Renewable Energy Conference that took place in Eilat this week. The first is that Israel is now a world leader in clean energy.

The second is that there is a small but growing group of players in the field who see this not just as a huge business opportunity, (though it certainly is that), but also as an ethical, or spiritual mission.

Israeli leadership in the field was manifested by a list of “firsts,” “biggest evers,” and breakthrough technologies that were heralded immediately before and during the conference. Brightsource announced that it had signed a contract with Southern California Edison to build the largest ever solar thermal generating field, which will produce 1.3 gigawatts in California.

The Arava Power Company went public on an agreement with the Israel Electricity Company that will enable it to build the world’s largest photovoltaic solar field on kibbutz-owned land in the Arava desert. The site will produce 80 MW of power, double the output of the current largest PV field in Germany.

Aora has developed a revolutionary hybrid solar technology that combines sun energy with biofuels. Dozens of other Israeli researchers and companies were showcasing cutting edge approaches to everything from green architecture to integrated waste recycling systems for Bedouin in the Negev.

Israeli green tech received ringing endorsements from some of the many overseas industry leaders in attendance. Dr. Ken Zweibel, author of the seminal Scientific American article, “The Grand Solar Plan,” set out a detailed blueprint for putting the US transportation system on a solar-powered electricity-run basis, acknowledging the role of Israel could play in moving towards such a system.

Nikolai Dobrott of the Apricum renewable energy consultancy in Germany’s “solar valley” pointed out that foreign investor could tick pretty much all of the boxes that made Israel a great place for green energy development.

The thousand strong gathering was overwhelming business-based. I counted one pony tail and zero pairs of sandals among the attendees (and the temperature was well into the seventies.) Yet several said that the significance of Israeli green tech went well-beyond the undoubted opportunities for profit.

Hezi Kugler, Director General of Israel’s Infrastructure Ministry was one such. He is a competent government bureaucrat who was recognized the importance of green energy for Israel and helped smooth the path to developing it. Kugler devoted a large part of his speech in Eilat to a sweeping biblical-historical vision of Israeli clean tech: “three thousand years ago near this place, Joshua entered Israel and the sun stood still so that the people could win a battle for the land. Today once again, with God’s help, we are harnessing the sun so as to live in harmony with His Creation.”

Arnold Goldman, Founder of BrightSource is a scientist and entrepreneur who has recognized the ethical and spiritual dimensions of renewable energy since founding the first Luz solar thermal company in 1980. In his speech at the Eilat conference Goldman encapsulated his vision thus:

“We now need what I call “energy for life”… We must recognize the profound connections between the content of the fuel we use and the quality of the lives we lead. This is true in five areas, building energy independence, reducing climate change-causing CO2 emissions, creating local jobs, strengthening local economies, and reducing crippling balance of payments deficits. We urgently need to convince policy makers of this connection…. We must be the prophets of these new industries… May they help bring prosperity and peace for all peoples. L’Chaim! “To life!”

Yossi Abramowitz of the Arava Power Company has spoken of his dream that Israel will become a “renewable light to the nations.”

Each of these pioneers is starting to articulate their sense that the task of developing clean energy that can save the planet from ecological catastrophe is a mission worthy both of this critically challenging moment in history and of our highest vision and drive to do good in the world.

This guest post was contributed by Rabbi Julian Sinclair, from the Jewish Climate Initiative.

Read more about the energy event:
New Energy for America Might be in Israel
Read a green book review by Rabbi Sinclair:
Rabbi Julian Sinclair on ‘Breakthrough’ by Nordhaus and Shellenberger

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