Israel hypes solar at Paris talks | times of israel

Melanie Lidman | 29.11.15

50-strong Israeli delegation to UN Climate Change Conference in Paris to show how blue and white tech can lower emissions

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An aerial view of the 40 megawatt solar field recently built at Kibbutz Ketura, which provides the one third of the daytime electricity for the city of Eilat. (Courtesy)

An aerial view of the 40 megawatt solar field recently built at Kibbutz Ketura, which provides the one third of the daytime electricity for the city of Eilat. (Courtesy)

Israel hopes to highlight its green technology expertise, with an emphasis on solar energy, as a major solution to global warming at the United Nations Climate Change talks in Paris on November 30, according to a member of the delegation.

The purpose of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) is to get all 166 UN member countries to sign a binding agreement that will keep global warming below an increase of two degrees Celsius over the next century. A global increase of two degrees is considered a tipping point that will lead to widespread environmental disasters. Hundreds of leaders will gather in Paris for the 11-day summit to try to hammer out a deal capping emissions for all countries and looking for creative solutions to halt the warming of the planet.

“The main focus for the Israeli delegation is that Israeli innovation can help all countries achieve their development and reduction goals,” Yosef Abramowitz, the president of solar company Energiya Global, and part of the Israeli delegation, told The Times of Israel ahead of his trip.

Abramowitz is one of the pioneers in the Israeli solar energy industry with the Arava Power Company, which is responsible for many of the solar fields in the region. He is one of three founders of Gigawatt Global, an American/Dutch/Israeli company which completed a solar field in Rwanda in February, the largest in eastern Africa.

Abramowitz (left) and youthful residents of the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village hold a solar panel (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Israeli delegation must also explain why, despite their emphasis on technological expertise, Israel has only committed to 17% of energycoming from renewable sources by 2030. That figure is on par with other developed countries, but low for a country that claims to have such advanced technology. The government has claimed this is due to high security costs, the geopolitical situation, or lack of geothermal energy. The US is aiming for 28% of energy from renewable sources by 2030.

Currently, only 2% of the country’s energy currently comes from renewable sources, which is solar. Although wind energy could be economically viable in some parts of the country, Israel’s path along a major migratory route for birds makes large windmills environmentally untenable, Abramowitz explained. As for the 2% figure, “we can certainly do better than that,” he said.

But while the country has a long way to improve, the Arava region has shot ahead in terms of renewable energy. Right now, 60% of the energy for the area from Eilat to the Dead Sea comes from solar energy, said Abramowitz. By 2020, 100% of the daytime energy consumption in this region will be from solar, and by 2025, it will be 100% of all energy, day and night.

The solar field atop the Knesset is part of the Green Knesset Project (photo credit: Courtesy)

“Israel is not great news, but the Arava has already produced a revolution,” said Abramowitz. “What we learned in the Arava should be a lesson to Israel and also to the world.”

This summer, Arava Power installed a 40 megawatt field at Kibbutz Ketura, which supplies a third of Eilat’s daytime energy. In the next five years, a 60 megawatt field will be constructed around nearby Timna, allowing the region full energy independence.

Abramowitz said African leaders have been clamoring to meet with him and other members of the Israeli delegation to replicate the success of Israel’s solar industry in their sunny countries.

Also during the conference, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will launch an alliance of more than 100 “sun-rich” countries who are committed to expanding solar energy as the way to combat global warming. “We want to light up lives of our people and power their future,” Modi said in October, according to the Times of India. “But, we want to do it in a way that the snow on Kilimanjaro does not disappear, the glacier that feeds the River Ganges does not retreat and our islands are not doomed,” he said.

Israel is not currently part of the alliance but is considering joining, said Abramowitz.

The Paris conference takes on increased importance due to the goal of reaching a binding agreement for every single member of the United Nations.

Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon speaks during a press conference at Santa Cruz Palace in Madrid on October 29, 2015. (AFP Photo/Javier Soriano)

“The [2009 Conference on Climate Change] Copenhagen talks and other UN [environmental] talks failed for several reasons,” said Abramowitz. “One is that the developed world said, ‘Oh my God, climate change, it’s bad for everyone! Let’s stop burning bad things!’ And the developing world said, ‘We want to lift people out of poverty. You can’t tell us what to burn and not burn, because you burned whatever you wanted for 100 years on a path to prosperity. Now we’ll burn whatever we need to burn to get there.”

Abramowitz said that his company’s solar field in Rwanda, built in the shape of the continent of Africa, refutes the notion that prosperity can only come from so-called dirty fuels, such as coal or oil. The $23.7 million solar field, built in cooperation with the United States government’s Power Africa Initiative, will provide Rwanda with 8.5 megawatts of power, enough to power 15,000 homes. The solar field now produces 6% of the country’s electricity generation but added zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The field was also built in one year, meaning that solar power can be available much more quickly than gas or oil, which take years to develop.

Aerial view of Gigawatt Global's Rwanda solar project (Courtesy)

“There’s been an 80% drop in the price of solar energy in the last five years,” said Abramowitz. “It’s a complete miracle. The technological solutions have been there. Once it becomes so economically viable and cheaper, it can be much faster to implement, particularly in the developing world.”

“This is the message of hope, made in Jerusalem,” Abramowitz added. “This is the roadmap for how a climate deal can be sealed. You can continue to grow, and we’ll support that growth.”

“Switching to renewable energy will defang terrorist groups that depend on oil revenues.”

The recent terror attacks in France on November 13 will cast a pall over the conference, not only in increased security measures, Abramowitz said. Terrorism and the rise of Islamic State are now at the top of everyone’s agenda, and climate change can affect that as well. “Switching to renewable energy will defang terrorist groups that depend on oil revenues,” he said.

Netanyahu will take the stage in Paris as the green movement in Israel is gaining even more momentum. On Wednesday, for the first time ever, a Green Party candidate was sworn into the Knesset. Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen-Paran replaced MK Danny Atar, who quit to head the Jewish National Fund. In an interview with The Times of Israel, the former CEO of the Israel Energy Forum and longtime environmental activist called solar energy “the real solution the world needs.”

Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen-Paran (courtesy of Zionist Union)

Israel will also be among the first countries around the world to hold a local climate change march in support of an agreement. France cancelled the massive march planned to take place ahead of the conference in Paris due to security concerns. The environmental group, looking for alternative ways to show public support for a deal, is overseeing approximately 2,000 local marches around the world.

Most cities are holding marches on Sunday, since the conference starts on Monday, but since Sunday is a work day, Israel hosted marches on Friday morning in Tel Aviv and around the Sea of Galilee. Hundreds of activists joined the protests, which were organized by environmental groups Israel Bicycle Association, EcoPeace Middle East, Greenpeace, and Green Course, among others, to advocate for clean, renewable energy sources.

Abramowitz said he is optimistic about the COP21 conference and believes that after 11 days of international wrangling and deal making, the UN member countries will approve a binding agreement.

“No one is questioning the science any more, everyone is looking for solutions.”

“There’s a sense of urgency on behalf of all the countries going into Paris,” he said. Even places like Saudi Arabia are concerned about global warming, dealing with issues like coral reef bleaching due to rising ocean temperatures, Abramowitz pointed out. “No one is questioning the science any more, everyone is looking for solutions.”

“I’m highly cognizant that the signing [of a possible global climate deal] will be during Hanukkah, the festival of lights,” Abramowitz added. “Perhaps we should all expect a miracle on December 10 or 11.”