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Israel is a global leader in green energy

Gail Rubin describes Israeli leadership in environmental technology innovation (Enterprise Column, Sunday, March 13, 2011).

Israel, a pioneer in solar energy, recognizes the need to expand its power generation capacity with sensitivity to global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. Courtesy photo
Israel, a pioneer in solar energy, recognizes the need to expand its power generation capacity with sensitivity to global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. Courtesy photo
While our local community hashes out the hot issues of the day, to bag or not to bag in plastic, I began to think about other far-flung places on the planet and what they do, especially those countries with minimal natural resources.

Clean-tech renewable energy is good for us and good for the planet. It would be good to free ourselves from dependency upon oil-rich repressive regimes who sit on our wallets as much as they sit on our Western values: regimes such as Saudi Arabia that quash the civil liberties we hold dear.

One country in the Middle East that is working toward this goal of ending our reliance on fossil fuels, Israel, is the same country that birthed other technologies such as drip irrigation that sustains agriculture in arid areas, solar energy and other innovations such as instant messaging, Internet telephone and wireless computer chips.

As part of a 2008 education campaign in Israel, a levy on plastic bags was passed into law to fund the provision of reusable bags to shoppers.

An old Jewish joke describes how God led Moses through the desert to the Holy Land for 40 years (he refused to ask his wife for directions), through much hardship, only to lead the Israelite nation to the only place in the Middle East without a drop of oil. If Moses is the father of the Jewish people, then necessity is the mother of invention for their energy needs.
Two thousand years later, not much has changed. Israel is considered an “island-state,” with most of its capacity produced from imported fossil fuels. With 60 percent of the population of more than 7 million residing along the narrow coastal strip along the Mediterranean, it is among one of the densest countries in the world, situated on land about the size of Rhode Island with few natural resources.

Israel’s energy consumption reflects its unique combination of European living standards with the rapid growth in fossil-based energy demand, typical of developing countries.
For these reasons, Israel has focused on clean-tech, renewable energy, recognizing the need to expand its power generation capacity with sensitivity to global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. A pioneer in solar energy and with a proven track record in high-tech and computer-related innovation, Israel is focusing on the next big thing: preparing the world for life without coal and oil. The Israeli government is encouraging cutting-edge technologies in the clean-tech sector.

Perhaps the country’s best known clean-tech company is Project Better Place, which aims to activate a network of charging stations for electric cars across Israel. This would be one of the most extensive grids of its kind in the world. Shai Agassi, of Project Better Place, says about half the cars in Israel will be electric by 2015. For more on Agassi’s vision for electric cars, visit

At a recent business conference in Israel, some 1,000 companies from around the world came to study Better Place’s progress. Agassi said: “When China comes to Israel to learn about electric cars, then something amazing is happening in Israel.”

Agassi’s family is a case study of “renewal energy” of the human variety. His family immigrated to Israel from Iraq in 1950, two years after Israel’s founding. The Agassis were part of a flood of almost a million Jewish refugees fleeing the wave of violent pogroms that swept the Arab world soon after the 1947 U.N. partition of Palestine into two states: one a homeland for the Jewish people, the other a homeland for the Palestinians.

These Jewish refugees came with nothing, having their homes, bank accounts and other assets frozen in Arab countries. How did this newly formed nation of penniless refugees transform a land that Mark Twain described as a “desolate country… silent, mournful expanse,” into one of the most dynamic entrepreneurial economies in the world?

Thanks to its self-reliance and need to develop technology for itself, Israel is considered an expert in green technology and its knowledge is widely sought to run projects throughout the world. For example, in January, Israel dedicated its largest on-grid solar project an $8.5 million collection of 40 solar panel systems that will supply 2 megawatts, enough power for about 500 homes. The government plans to issue bids for another 10 solar projects in the Negev Desert, with a total capacity of 60 megawatts.

Israeli company BrightSource Energy has taken its expertise overseas, helping to develop the Ivanpah Solar Electric System in California’s Mojave Desert, which is expected to be the largest solar thermal project in the world. Another Israeli-based operation, Siemens AG’s Solel Solar systems, is helping build the Mojave Solar Park, a 6,000-acre power-producing complex expected to go online next year.

Eight Israeli companies have been named in each of the past two years to the Global CleanTech 100, a respected industry barometer of the top 100 companies worldwide. Only the United States and Great Britain had more companies named. When General Electric Corp. handed out $100,000 grants last year as part of its international challenge to companies to build the next-generation power grid, two of the five winners were Israeli companies.

Even the olive branch, a well-recognized symbol of peace, has become a symbol of renewable energy. Olivebar, a company based in Israel, is using olive press waste to create a long-term, renewable energy source for wood-burning ovens to help prevent further deforestation in developing nations.

So maybe Moses was no fool after all. At the time, his goal was to find the best land for crop fields, not oil fields. Good land under proper stewardship can produce food indefinitely. But oil doesn’t last forever. What is valuable today may not be of value tomorrow. Israelis understand this challenge to survive all too well. So should the rest of us.
For more information on green energy in Israel, see a video clip at

— Gail Rubin is a founding member of the Davis Interfaith Coalition for Peace and Justice in the Middle East. For more information, visit
Israel, a pioneer in solar energy, recognizes the need to expand its power generation capacity with sensitivity to global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. Courtesy photo

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