Renewable energy’s growth and competition for market share with fossil fuels has increased the need to develop new innovations – but that doesn’t always happen in our backyard. Some of the most cutting-edge energy inventions are happening in Israel, and they could have major implications for renewables in America.
As part of energyNOW!’s “Israel Connection” series, chief correspondent Tyler Suiters explored how discoveries half a world away could revolutionize the way we generate clean energy. You can watch the full segment in the video player below:
A Israeli-U.S. initiative
Israel has always depended on imported energy, mainly fossil fuels, from often-hostile neighbors. But the need for energy security is leading the country to develop its own power sources, and could help jump-start America’s renewable sector. “There’s nothing like confronting a challenge to force you to come up with new and better solutions,” said Andrea Yonah of the Bird Foundation, an Israeli-U.S. venture promoting industrial research and development.
Since 2008, the foundation and U.S. Department of Energy have given $10 million to joint U.S.-Israeli projects to solve energy challenges facing both nations. This funding, combined with the history and environment of Israel, is inspiring energy innovations that could boost U.S. renewables.
In fact, one of the most promising new inventions takes its inspiration from a 2,500 year-old design. Ben Katin, a Jewish priest, invented some of the first plumbing technologies, and helped inspire a new kind of hydroelectric turbine.
Leviathan Energy’s Benkatina hydroelectric generator is small enough to attach to city pipes, sewage systems, or even rainwater drains, and is built for land-locked cities like Phoenix or Dallas. “The important thing about energy and what we’re doing here is a real need worldwide for every place to advance to the category of being in a sustainable environment and sustainable production,” said Daniel Farb, Leviathan’s CEO.
History may have inspired the hydroelectric design, but the Red Sea was the genesis for an innovation to cut the cost of offshore wind power. Ocean Bricks are pre-formed cement blocks designed to streamline turbine siting. The blocks are built hollow, can be combined like Legos to support different turbine sizes, are towed out to sea by ships, and can be quickly connected to transmission lines.
The inventor who designed Ocean Bricks thinks they can make offshore wind much more affordable. “We’ve no need to use big cranes, big ships, expensive diving,” said Kobi Birnhack. “To build one megawatt offshore, the existing price is around $6 million. We can cut the price about $3.5 million.”
Israeli inventions could also make renewables more efficient. Another Leviathan design, the Wind Tulip, boosts the power of small-scale wind. The tulip’s funnel-like construction accelerates wind coming into the turbine to create more electricity with a smaller footprint. Using this technology, urban settings could generate more power in a more concentrated setting than with current small-scale turbines.
Pathway to success
These projects may still largely be on the drawing board, but a path to success is evident in BrightSource Energy. The company is building the world’s largest solar thermal power plant in California’s Mojave Desert – a project modeled after a smaller test version already in existence in Israel’s Negev Desert.
To Yonah, BrightSource’s success embodies the renewable relationship growing between the two countries. “Israel brings its innovation, its technology, its ‘thinking out of the box’ ways, and the U.S. brings the ability to take those new technologies and bring them to market.”
Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy public relations company based in Washington, D.C.