Energy independence and climate change are two of the biggest challenges facing the U.S. But perhaps no other nation understands the link between clean energy and security more than Israel. It relies on imported fossil fuel from hostile neighbors to power its economy, despite having a vast and mostly untapped clean energy resource.
As part of energyNOW!’s “The Israel Connection” series, chief correspondent Tyler Suiters traveled to the sun-drenched land to find out how emerging solar technology could lead to greater energy security and a cleaner environment. Suiters also explored the link between Israel’s innovative solar technology and the future of clean energy in the U.S. You can play the full video below.
Few countries face as unique a combination of energy challenges as Israel. It is almost completely dependent upon foreign oil, surrounded by hostile neighbors, and its biggest supplier of natural gas is Egypt — hardly a stable source of energy.
Israel’s electricity grid is not connected to any neighboring countries, so it must expand its own energy resources. “The Arab states have a grid they share among each other — if a country doesn’t produce enough power, they can get power from another country,” said David Rosenblatt, of Arava Power. “In Israel, if it doesn’t produce power, it goes black.”
While Israel has many energy-related problems, it does have one natural resource in abundance — the sun. The entire country is located along the sunniest portion of the Earth, according to NASA maps. This may make an unforgiving environment at times, but it also makes a logical home for solar energy innovations.
One hot spot of new solar power is the Arava Institute, housed on a working kibbutz in the Negev Desert. Multiple technologies are in research and development there, including solar panels designed to float on water to power coastal areas without much empty land, and small-scale concentrated solar systems. To Rosenblatt, it makes sense. “Israel has the best sun, people living where that is, transmission lines, and available land,” he said.
But that equation hasn’t added up to clean energy until now. Even though 90 percent of Israel’s homes have rooftop solar water heaters, solar energy only generates about one percent of the country’s energy. Israel’s government seems to have seen the light, though. It recently approved a plan to get ten percent of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020 — roughly the same amount of renewable electricity generated by the U.S. in 2010.
The U.S. may lead Israel in renewable energy generation, but some of America’s biggest clean energy projects have deep roots in the Negev’s dry soil. BrightSource Energy, an American company building the 392-megawatt (MW) Ivanpah concentrated solar power (CSP) project in California’s Mojave Desert, constructed their first CSP test facility in Israel. Ivanpah is now nearing completion, but was dogged for years by land constraints and environmental concerns.
This need to get the most power from a limited amount of available land spurred innovation in Israel. “We can only effectively work with good direct sunlight,” said Arnold Goldman, BrightSource’s founder. “We have limited areas (in Israel), but we work very, very effectively from those areas.” These lessons seem to be working just as well in California — BrightSource just announced plans to build a second CSP project, this one with a 500-MW CSP capacity, located near the Nevada border.
Taken in sum, Israel’s solar advances may mean one of America’s closest international allies may also soon be one of its most important clean energy allies.
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