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Alternative Energy Developments in Israel and Pittsburgh

On August 14, 2013 by Schnader in Energy

By Elliot Dater

In my last post, I discussed the revolution in natural gas exploration and production in Israel and Pittsburgh. That revolution is a game changer for the economies of both regions, each in their own way.  However, natural gas is not the end of the story. In fact, prior to the discovery of deep-sea natural gas reserves off of its coast, Israel was well known for the development of alternative energy technologies, due to limited natural resources and the desire to reduce dependence on foreign sources of petroleum products and coal. Those technologies included solar, geothermal, solar, wind and electric car battery technologies.

Anyone who has spent time in Israel, especially in the Arava or Negev deserts understands that the sun is Israel’s most abundant natural resource.  However, while solar energy has been used as the primary energy source for hot water heating in residential Israel for decades, until the last few years, there was almost no development of actual solar power production.

This situation is slowly changing.  Arava Power, an Israeli company out of Kibbutz Ketura, led by Yosef Abramowitz and backed by Siemens and other investors, has a 4.9 megawatt solar energy field up and running, with a number of others under construction and many more planned over the next few years in Israel. The Israeli National Technology and Renewable Energy Center, located on Kibbutz Yotvata, last year inaugurated a new facility for testing developments in solar panels.

According to a recent interview of Eitan Parnass, CEO of the Renewable Energy Association of Israel, there are 20 solar energy plants located in the Negev and the Israeli Electricity Authority has approved 2,400 megawatts of solar production, which should be achieved by 2020. Solar power production is growing and on its way in Israel.

But solar power is not the end of the story.  Ormat Technologies, Inc., (NYSE:  ORA) is a leading geothermal power plant producer. Better Place, a developer and manufacturer of a revolutionary battery exchange concept for powering electric cars made huge headlines over the years and raised approximately $850 million in investment. Better Place recently went into liquidation in Israel and it looked like its concept failed.  However, a group led by none other than Yosef Abramowitz recently purchased the assets of Better Place out of liquidation and will go on to develop the Better Place business in Israel and then grow it organically, or at least that is the plan. Finally, Israel also is developing wind power, with wind farms already operating in the Golan Heights and new farms approved for a Druze village in the Upper Galilee and elsewhere in Northern Israel.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Ok, this is the Pittsburgh-Israel Business Report, where’s the Pittsburgh part of the alternative energy story?”

As I have written before, it is difficult to mistake Pittsburgh for Israel.  It is especially difficult, if not impossible to confuse Pittsburgh with the Arava Desert.  So there is no way Pittsburgh can be involved in solar energy, right?  Well, I thought so too, but I was wrong.   According to the city’s Green Pittsburgh web page, Pittsburgh is only one of 25 U.S. cities to be named a Solar America City through the Department of Energy. Pittsburgh’s plan is to conduct a series of solar site assessment with Sandia National Labs to identify the best locations for solar installations and to review existing city regulations in order to determine how to best foster the growth of solar energy installations in Pittsburgh. A large number of solar installers are active in Southwestern Pennsylvania installing solar projects for residential and commercial customers, while a smaller number of companies are involved in developing new solar technologies.

Pittsburgh is also the home to innovators in the biofuels industry.  Steel City Biofuels is a non-profit organization that develops and implements biofuels education, including through building a demonstration-scale biodiesel plant. Steel City Biofuels also is involved in researching the performance and emissions benefits of biodiesel fuels as well as advocacy of policies to promote the production and use of biofuels.  Fossil Free Fuel creates biodiesel from recycled restaurant (and other) cooking oil. Fossil Free Fuel has also been involved in retro-fitting vehicles to run on its recycled biodiesel.

Pittsburgh has significant activity in the wind power industry.  Ever Power is a wind energy company headquartered in the city, with two wind farms in Cambria County and a third underway in Somerset County.  Windstax Wind Power Systems recently announced that it moved into a 10,000 square foot industrial and office building downtown. Windstax develops and manufactures uniquely designed vertical, self-contained wind turbines that capture and store electricity. One of their systems in installed on Smallman Street in the Strip District.

Aquion Energy, also located in Pittsburgh, is developing an innovative battery for storage of electricity generated in power plants. Aquion’s battery uses sustainable materials, does not use toxic or hazardous materials and therefore at the end of its life, is also recyclable and landfill safe.

Of course there is more going on in alternative energy in both Israel and Pittsburgh than I can do justice to in one blog post.  The point is that while natural gas is getting most of the attention in both places, there are plenty of people still working on long-term, sustainable answers to the world’s energy future in Pittsburgh and Israel.  Taken together with natural gas, or even without it, these are exciting energy developments.

Elliot Dater is a partner in Schnader’s Business Services Department,  and represents Israeli companies doing business in the United States and U.S. companies and investors doing business in Israel, as well as emerging growth companies in the technology and medical device industries

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