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.
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.