Israeli solar energy companies such as Solel Solar, Aora, Ormat technologies, and a host of others are now world leaders in the development of sun power to produce electricity. But Israel, a small country of 7 million, with more than half its land area being desert, has been a solar energy pioneer virtually since its beginning in 1948.
What is now fondly known to many Israelis as a “dude shemesh” or sun boiler, was invented by a guy named Levi Yissar back in the early 1950’s, when electricity was very expensive due to a severe energy shortage.
His innovation consisted of a modified electric water boiler that was erected on the roof of a building and attached by pipes to two simple glass faced collector plates that heated water running through them from the boiler, when the sun’s rays struck them during certain hours of the day. The heated water then returned by gravity feed to the insulated boiler, where it was stored for later use in kitchens and bathrooms.
Yissar, an engineer, and entrepreneur, soon opened the first company selling such devices, the Neryah Company, in 1953. The device soon became so popular that people waited for weeks to purchase their own “dude shemesh” ; and it wasn’t long before other companies got into the act. By the mid 1960’s, one in every 20 households already had their own sun boiler, and more than 50,000 had been sold.
Israeli companies also began exporting the device, particularly to other Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Turkey and Italy. More modified versions included an auxiliary electric heating device to heat water at night or on cloudy days. More modern versions have also been developed for large apartment buildings, where large collecting plates send water to either individual private water tanks or to large condominium ones where the heated water is shared by tenants in the building.
Nowadays, residents of most private dwellings or smaller apartment buildings in Israel have these sun boilers installed; which reduces electricity consumption considerably – by an estimated two million barrels of oil a year.
And it must be noted that all of this came into being long before the invention of photovoltaic solar energy cells and panels (PV) that are now being used to produce thousands of megawatts of electricity.
The old “dude shemesh” is still very much in use, however, even in many homes in the USA, Australia, and other countries. Middle Eastern countries like Jordan and Egypt, which has more than 500,000 solar collectors, are also availing themselves to this simple, yet efficient way of harnessing the sun’s power.
Egypt uses them in hotels and commercial buildings, as well in apartment blocks and private homes. Jordan has more than 200,000, many of them purchased from Israel. And even North African countries like Tunisia have also gotten into the act (110,000) with the assistance of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to which more than 170 countries now belong.
The credit for much of this can be given to Israeli pioneer innovator Levi Yissar, who had the idea that the sun’s power could be harnessed, almost like a genie in a bottle.