Israeli Minister Shares Renewable Energy Innovations

Benjamin (Fouad) Ben-Eliezer, Israel's minister of national infrastructure, represented Israel recently in the 2008 Washington International Renewable Energy Conference, where he highlighted his country's recent contributions to finding sustainable energy solutions. These solutions are in the areas of battery-powered cars, solar power generation in the United States and Israel, and wind and geothermal energy.

On Jan. 21, 2008, the Israeli government announced its support of a plan to install the world's first electric car network in Israel by 2011.

Project Better Place, owned by Israeli-American entrepreneur Shai Agassi, will provide lithium-ion batteries to power the cars and the infrastructure to refresh or replace them. One battery will enable the cars to travel 124 miles per charge. Project Better Place will install parking meter-like plugs on city streets and construct service stations along highways to replace the batteries. Renault-Nissan will build the new cars and will offer a small number of their existing electric models, such as the "Megane" sedan, at prices roughly comparable to gasoline models.

To promote this form of transportation, the government cut the tax rate on cars powered by electricity to 10 percent (from 79 percent on ordinary cars). This initiative will offer consumers an inexpensive car for which they will pay a monthly fee based on expected mileage.

The tax breaks for "clean" electric vehicles, which Israel promises to offer until at least 2015, will make the cars cheaper to consumers than gasoline-engine cars. "You’ll be able to get a nice, high-end car at a price roughly half that of the gasoline model today," Agassi said.

Solel Solar Systems Ltd., an Israeli company, designed the key components for a new solar energy plant in Nevada that produces 64 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 48,000 homes in the Las Vegas Valley.

The plant uses 190,000 curved parabolic mirrors, concentrating desert sunlight to 750 degrees Fahrenheit, in order to heat synthetic oil inside tubes that, in turn, create steam, and drive a turbine to produce electricity. These liquid tubes or "solar receivers" are specially coated glass and steel vacuum tubes designed and produced by Solel Solar Systems Ltd. with Schott North America Inc. of Elmsford, N.Y. The new plant uses about 19,300 of these 13-foot (four-meter) curved parabolic mirror receivers.  

Solel and Pacific Gas and Electric together acquired a $2 billion contract in July 2007 to build the world's largest solar energy park in California by 2011 that will provide enough electricity for 400,000 homes and stretch over 6,000 acres. It will use 1.2 million mirrors and 317 miles of vacuum tubing to harness the power of the desert sun, delivering 553 megawatts of clean energy. Since 1992, Solel's technology has been powering nine solar power stations in California that generate 350 megawatts of electricity.

Israel is likewise increasing its domestic solar power operations. In February 2008, the Israeli government issued a tender for the construction of two solar-energy plants in the southern Negev desert. The two plants will supply 250 megawatts of electricity, equivalent to 3 percent of Israel's electricity consumption. These new plants, along with 300 megawatts from wind power, will permit Israel to produce 600 megawatts of renewable energy by 2011-2012.

Professor Arie Zaban has invented a photovoltaic cell that could dramatically reduce the cost of producing electricity from solar power. Zaban, who heads The Nanotechnology Institute at Bar-Ilan, says that the cells, which are composed of metallic wires mounted on conductive glass, can form the basis of solar cells that produce electricity with efficiency similar to that of conventional, silicon-based cells while being much cheaper to produce. OrionSolar, a Jerusalem-based company that has entered into a partnership with Bar-Ilan University, is developing commercial applications for inexpensive, dye-based photovoltaic cells based on Zaban's work.

Israeli executives Shlomo Shmeltzer and Eli Ben-Dov, Ph.D., along with Epcon Industries, aim to build a wind-turbine farm that will generate 50 megawatts of power in Israel's southern Arava region. Together, the two men also installed 100 megawatts of turbines in northern Israel.

Israeli company Ormat Industries is working in geothermal energy. The geothermal plants harness steam, heat, or hot water from geysers or hot springs on the Earth's surface to produce electricity. Ormat operates 11 plants in five countries, providing 360 megawatts of power to 500,000 people.

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