Israel has been an innovator in solar energy, attracting investments in innovative projects that have made the Negev desert bloom as a center of solar development. Among those projects has been the Arava Power Company’s facility in Kibbutz Ketura, the only commercial-scale grid-connected solar field in Israel.
But those halcyon days of solar innovation may be coming to an end – and soon, says Arava Power Company president Yosef Abramowitz. Unless the government gets its solar act together, Abramowitz said Sunday, “the majority of international investors in the Israeli solar industry will leave along with billions of dollars and thousands of green jobs.”
Abramowitz made the comments as he accepted the Person of the Year Award at the 2012 Energy and Business Convention, which featured discussions and lectures on major issues that will lead the energy sector in the coming years, and presentation of new ideas and technologies. Among the speakers were some of the top people in Israel’s energy industry, including Eugene Kendal, head of the National Economic Council; Shaul Zemach, director general of the Ministry of Energy & Water; Amit Mor, CEO of Eco Energy; Amos Yaron, CEO, Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Co., and many others.
Arava Power was established through the hard work and vision of Abramowitz, who, along with partners David Rosenblatt and Ed Hofland, turned what was considered a pipe dream in 2006 into a commercial venture that eventually hopes to supply Israel with 10 percent of its electricity needs. Abramowitz is a lifelong activist who has been involved in everything from Jewish education to human rights in Russia, and, of course, solar energy. Besides believing in sustainable energy, Abramowitz sees solar energy as a vehicle for social change; Arava power has signed numerous agreements with Negev Bedouin to supply electricity for village and to create employment for them. The company was so successful that Siemens bought a 40% stake in Arava in 2009.
Solar power has, without a doubt, been a boon for Israel, but that could be coming to an end, Abramowitz said after accepting the award. “If there is no profitability, horizon and clarity within six month from today,” he said, investors would likely pull out of the country and put their money in projects in countries that have better organized solar development programs.
Israel’s goals were too limited, said Abramowitz. Currently the government is aiming to produce 10% of the country’s energy needs from renewable sources by 2020. “We must expand the goal to 20%,” said Abramowitz. “We must match the standards of our partners in the European Union to take advantage of the enormous potential of the renewable energy industry for the national economy and for energy security of Israel.”
Another important goal, said Abramowitz, was to “restore profitability, horizon and clarity. During the first years of the renewable energy industry, we suffered blows in all three of these areas. We must add another 1,000 megawatts to the quota because developers have already spent hundreds of millions of shekels in order to submit permit requests which are now collecting dust at the Public Utilities Authority.” The result, he said was that “the government destroyed the faith of the developers and the international investors are losing confidence in the State of Israel.” Action must be taken in order to prevent this from happening, he said.
Abramowitz himself is preparing to try some projects outside the country. Abramowitz has hired investment firm DS Apex M&A Ltd. (subsidiary of DSAP: Tel Aviv) to raise $10 million to fund the development of solar fields outside of Israel for a new global venture.
Not that Abramowitz is abandoning Israel; one of the targets of the new effort is Africa, he said, and his decision to work in Africa is an extension of his social activism. “Eighty-five percent of Africa has no power,” said Abramowitz. “And most of the 15% who have electricity are burning dirty and expensive diesel. We have a moral and strategic interest to end the burning of oil for electricity production worldwide. Our investors will derive great value by our providing clean and inexpensive power to energy-hungry markets, while also improving the lives of tens of millions of people.”
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