Energy from a different perspective….an Israeli one.
Last week I was in Israel learning about energy and culture as a guest of Project Interchange and the American Jewish Committee. They invited me and seven other energy professionals from the U.S. to see how Israel is dealing with its energy issues and to learn about advances Israeli companies might be making in the world of energy.
I’m going to try and do three blog entries this week on my experiences. Here’s the first one…
Two early energy stops last week were the new electric car business, Better Place, and the wave energy technology company Sea Wave Power Plants. Both are located in or around Tel Aviv – a vibrant, modern city along the Mediterranean with great industry, business and beaches (sorry, no pictures from my brief walk on the beach but suffice it to say it was a beautiful beach in all aspects).
Better Place has teamed up with Renault to build an electric car sedan that seats four comfortably and get 100 miles to a charge. The big difference with Better Place is that the car battery can be switched out in five minutes at a “switch station” so you avoid the problems associated with range anxiety. In other words you own the car but not the battery.
The car can also be plugged in at home, at work or other places that have regular charging stations – you get two charging stations installed as part of the price of the car (which is about $28,000).
In a country like Israel that is very compact and you have very few places outside the country to drive to (no side trips to Beirut nor Damascus is possible…it would be like living in Chicago and not being able to drive to Wisconsin or Michigan) you only need so many switching stations and charging stations. The Better Place model is just getting off the ground here with the first four switching stations up and 250 cars sold during the past few months. If it works, look for other places like Denmark and Hawaii to be part of the next round of early adopters.
As with any new technologies, there are plenty of skeptics when it come to electric cars in general and the Better Place business model specifically. I’m going to keep an open mind on the concept and keep a close eye on the progress. Remember, gas in Israel is $8 a gallon so there is some big interest economically and politically to move away from cars that run on crude oil (crude oil mainly is imported from Russia and Kazakhstan). It will help if more than one car manufacturer buys into the technology so customers have choices.
Our other venture was to visit an energy wave company — Sea Wave Power Plants — that is also home to a lumber yard. Sure, it sounds strange but the wave energy technology is the brainchild of Shmuel Ovadia, who runs the lumber business but has also been working on perfecting a wave energy technology that is now being tested on a commercial scale in locations ranging from India to China to Kenya.
The Kenya project will be a 100-megawatt facility covering 5 km of coastline. The technology is 65 to 80 efficient depending on the wave size (the “buoys” can handle waves ranging from .5 to 7 meters high) and frequency.
This video on the Sea Wave web site gives you a glimpse of the buoy in action. I love visiting with people who put so much into a product with the hope it can be a commercial success someday. When you meet with Shmuel, you don’t have to understand Hebrew to see the pride and excitement in his face as the technology begins to be implemented.
Just like Better Place, no one is guaranteeing this company success. But a $100 million dollar deal with the Kenyan government isn’t chump change! These projects are just two more examples of the Israeli “start up” economy that has brought so much success to the high tech, IT and energy companies in the country.
I want to finish with a short note on natural gas. As everyone is aware of by now, there has been a huge change in natural gas production in the U.S. in the past few years. The same holds true for Israel as Texas-based Noble Gas has come and found major deep-water natural gas fields in the Mediterranean Coast just west of Israel — enough to last the country for up to three decades. And Noble recently found another, larger field that could be tapped to create an export market or supply the Israeli marketplace for even longer.
Israel got 0 percent of its electricity from natural gas generation in 2004, now it gets 40 percent from natural gas, that is a sea change (pun intended) in a very short time. They might get to 60, even 80 percent depending on infrastructure, economic and policy issues. For a country that has to rely on imported coal, imported fuel oil and imported natural gas (the latter of which used to come from Egypt until government troubles caused the pipeline to be shut down), energy independence sure has to feel good.
Now the debate is raging on whether they allow exports of the natural gas (sound familiar?) and how safe the resource will be. You see the natural gas will be shipped via pipeline to an off-shore production facility because they couldn’t find an on-shore site because of NIMBY backlash (again, sound familiar?). Israel has plenty of not-so-friendly governments and entities that might try to disrupt supply and hitting a pipeline or off-shore production facility isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible to imagine either.
But the bottom line is that Israel is joining the natural gas fan club and all the fun and excitement that goes with it! Welcome….
Later this week I’ll comment on energy in the West Bank, solar power from Bright Source in the Negev Desert and more!