Clean Power Israeli solar power innovator Yosef Abramovitz

Published on November 18th, 2013 | by Tina Casey


Straight Talk About Radical Climate Change – And How To Stop It

November 18th, 2013 by  

With its remote location in Israel’s Arava region, Kibbutz Ketura would seem to be an unlikely place to start a green energy revolution. However, this particular community happens to be the home of multiple Nobel Prize nominee, sustainability innovator and “impact investor” Yosef Abramowitz, co-founder of the Arava Power Company.

Arava Power has already fired up the first grid-connected commercial solar farm in Israel and the company has big plans just up ahead, so when the chance came to visit Ketura from the US this week naturally we were interested.

The trip was sponsored by the Israeli organization Kinetis and it was just one of many (many, many) stops in Israel arranged for CleanTechnica and several other writers over a five-day period, so we’d like to thank Kinetis in advance. This will be the first in a series of articles covering Israel’s contributions to global climate change management.

First, The Bad News

In a presentation to our group last Thursday, Abramowitz (describing his own views, not those of Arava Power or Ketura) emphasized that “radical climate change is happening before our very eyes…[and] we are not making the radical changes that need to be made” if we are to continue life on this planet as we know it.

Israeli solar power innovator Yosef Abramovitz

Yosef Abramowitz.

He underscored the fact that the world’s poorest inhabitants are most vulnerable to climate change impacts especially in low-lying areas, which in his view places the continued promotion of the fossil fuel economy in the category of a crime against humanity on an unprecedented scale.

Now, The Good News: The Solar Power Diesel Killer

For those of you following clean tech news on a regular basis, the bad news – good news presentation is familiar ground, but it is always helpful to see how zeroing in on one relatively straightforward part of a complicated crisis can make a significant difference overall, so now let’s take a look at the good news through Arava Power’s lense.

Arava Power has based its business model on tackling climate management from an angle that could anchor the global energy platform in a more stable position within a short period of time, by replacing the use of diesel oil in power plants with renewable energy.

That’s not necessarily the most effective  global strategy that comes to mind for those of us in the US, since as of last year petroleum accounted for only about one percent of our electricity generation. However, Abramowitz reminded our group that globally, petroleum accounts for about nine percent of electricity generation.

The elimination of that nine percent is part of the “radical change” Abramowitz refers to, since going by his math it would bring today’s atmospheric carbon dioxide load back down to the magic number of 350 parts per million.

For that reason, Abramowitz refers to solar power as the “diesel-killing” solution.

Local Problems, Exportable Solutions

For some insight into how rapidly the transition from diesel to solar could be made, take a look at what Arava Power is doing in its home region.

From the start, Arava Power had its eye on the nearby tourist city of Eilat. The city initially installed diesel generators as an emergency backup but now relies on them constantly. Aside from generating avoidable global warming emissions, the high-priced diesel fuel has also been sucking money out of the local economy.

According to Abramowitz, with solar costing just half the price of diesel the regional energy market was ripe for the picking.

Arava’s first project, Ketura Sun, went online in June 2011. A field of 18,500 photovoltaic cells located on the grounds of Kibbutz Ketura, its design capacity is 4.95 MW and the operating capacity is in the range of 3.5 MW.

This one field alone already accounts for 100 percent of the daytime electricity used by Kibbutz Ketura.

More to the point, Arava has established a successful business model for larger commercial operations, the first of which will be Ketura Solar. This 40 MW solar field will launch in 18 months and will provide 1/3 of the electricity for Eilat as well as providing more than 100 percent of the electricity needs of other communities in the region.

This all sounds like a total no-brainer (as in, who could hate it?) but Abramowitz noted that there was considerable opposition to the Ketura Sun project from the get-go. He toted up about 100 political and regulatory obstacles to be overcome before Ketura Sun made it from first conception to shovels in the ground.

After proving that these kinds of battles can be won, tucking a successful business model under its belt, and recruiting some serious partners to back it up — Siemens, developing nations specialist Global Sun Partners, and KKL-JNF, the longstanding land trust organization of Israel — Arava is ready to take on the global marketplace.

The next challenge, in case you thought I forgot all about the energy storage issue, is obviously going to be how to store solar energy for 24-hour renewable energy operations, which is particularly important for the hotels and other elements of the tourist industry in Eilat.

Energy storage has been a topic of growing interest here at CleanTechnica and we did ask that question at several stops around the Arava region. A few clues about that will be shared in a later post.

In the mean time, given that the goal of the city of Eilat and the Eilot Havel Regional Council is to achieve 100 percent carbon neutrality and zero use of fossil fuels by 2020, you can bet that utility scale renewable energy storage solutions are close at hand.

The Ethical Energy Revolution

Since the US religious community is beginning to pivot from a narrow focus on individual behavior to embrace a more expansive environmental stewardship role as far as bettering the human condition goes, a few more personal thoughts that Abramowitz shared with our group are also relevant.

First, of course, the bad news: as Abramowitz sees it, the failure to transition to a more sustainable economy is an act against faith as a shared human responsibility, or as he more eloquently states, “because of our corruption and our greed we are jeopardizing the miracle of creation every day.”

The good news relates to the pivotal role that individuals can play globally. For those of Jewish heritage — who “under normal historical conditions should have been extinct many times” as Abramowitz puts it — today’s race to find technological solutions and overcome all obstacles is affirmed by a history of survival against all odds.

In religious terms, the secret sauce backing up Arava’s confidence in its global strategy is what Abramowitz sees as a powerful example of an ethical revolution and one of the first historical examples of global viral marketing, in which ten ideas passed along to a small group of people in a remote desert became a global norm.

From a more sciencey angle, take a look at those palm fronds sprouting up behind Abramowitz in the image that accompanies this post.

That’s the Methuselah date palm, which was germinated from a seed excavated from Masada, the site of one of the epic battles in Jewish history.

Being that the seed was about 2,000 years old the endeavor to make it grow into a plant was thought to be “botanically impossible,” but the botanist responsible for this achievement, Dr. Elaine Solowey, was obviously more concerned about what was possible rather than impossible, and here is the result.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Mad Love

    climate change is the new holocaust. left unchecked it will kill all jews.

  • MikeSmith866

    I was surprised that there was no reference to coal which provides 42% of the world’s electricity. Along with killing diesel we must also kill coal.

  • JMin2020

    Thanks for the post Tina. We do need some racical change in energy production area to address Radical Climate Change. Yousef has a good start on eliminating the diesel applications as much as possible. I would encourage all involved with fiesel fueled power production to take his advice. I will do what I can to replace the diesel systems with hydrogen based systems. There are many alternatives; but I would urge zero emissions systems be pursued at every opportunity.

  • climatehawk3

    I have biked to support Kibbutz Ketura twice,and will do so again,if possible.And the Arava Institute.Meanwhile try to walk to work when possible and hope to work on a local community solar garden.I do not expect to complete the work,but neither am I am allowed to desist.

  • JamesWimberley

    “The elimination of that nine percent [ CO2 emissions from oil-base electricity generation] is part of the “radical change” Abramowitz refers to, since going by his math it would bring today’s atmospheric carbon dioxide load back down to the magic number of 350 parts per million.”
    I think you must have misunderstood him. Getting back to 350 ppm requires eliminating virtually all fossil fuels, including coal, plus mega-scale net sequestration, since we are already at 400 ppm.

    • Omega Centauri

      I was going to say the same thing. Something must have got garbled. At least the goal (for Eilat) of 100% carbon neutral by 2020, is on the right scale to the need -instead of the more typical 30% by 2050 type of thing we see being touted as progress.

  • Richard Moseley

    When the basic premise of a piece is flawed, the body of it will quickly deteriorate into absurdity as in this case. Stating climate change can be stopped is a fallacy equal to saying that climate change doesn’t exist, especially as the only constant for climate behaviour is change between warming and cooling. ‘Green’ technologies should and will replace carbon power solely for reasons of energy security, only it’ll be decades before they can provide industrial levels of energy so demonising the means to make such breakthroughs happen is pure hypocrisy, with the extra sting of this dogma continuing to keep the benefits of electricity for millions of the world’s poorest people firmly out of reach. Accept the developmental realities of our time and stop stifling the means for change in the name of people already suffering through our economic disinterest.

    • TinaCasey

      Radical climate change is the subject at hand, not incremental change.

    • A Real Libertarian

      “the extra sting of this dogma continuing to keep the benefits of
      electricity for millions of the world’s poorest people firmly out of
      reach. Accept the developmental realities of our time and stop stifling
      the means for change in the name of people already suffering through
      our economic disinterest.”

      Renewable energy is the only thing that can change that.

      It is perfect evidence of the utter evil of Fossils and Nukes that they condemn the poorest of the poor to starvation in the name of profit and then blame the results of their actions on those who try fix the problems they made.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Exactly. Right now we are seeing micro-solar lighting the homes of millions of the world’s poorest people.

        These are people whom the grid would not have reacted in decades and who would have been hard pressed to afford the most basic connection. They would have received electricity only if their governments or other agencies paid for them.

        With ‘pay as you use’ micro-solar these “world’s poorests” are purchasing their own electrical systems with part of the money they are saving from no longer needing to purchase kerosene and candles.

        After about a year of payments they will own their electrical systems outright and can then decide to enlarge their system or to spend their money in another way to aid their families.

    • MikeSmith866

      According to the IPCC we can avoid the tipping point if we are able to reduce our carbon emissions by 5.3% per year starting in 2015. The have a second chart that says that we must leave 89% of our fossil fuel resources in the ground to avoid the tipping point.
      It can be done, we just need the politcal will to do it.

    • Your knowledge of even the most basic principles of economy suck.

      You want to promote the unfettered use of fossil fuels, yet ignore the law of supply and demand. More demand = increased price. That will make sure those those fossil fuels firmly out of reach of the poor. And yet you are SOOOO concerned with those people. Oh, the hypocrisy.

      Humans cause climate change and humans can and will stop climate change. Reality is what it is. Get over it.

  • AegysLTS

    Fascinating….wonderful to see Yosef doing well now, I remember not too long ago I read about the bureaucratic battle holding back Kibbutz Ketura.

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