Israel seek to stop oil dependence with renewable energy

Soaking up sun and closing deals marked this year’s renewable energy event in Eilat, drawing nearly 2,000 entrepreneurs and investors. The Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Conference was the best kind of networking event for sustainable energy, according to Dorit Banet, co-chair of the conference.

The Middle East is on fire with revolutions, the overthrowing of regimes, and people generally not satisfied with how their rulers are allocating the riches acquired from their countries’ oil wealth and natural gas reserves. Because of the sudden unrest in the Middle East, oil and gas prices have once again become unstable, and now more than ever, leaders of the Western world know they can no longer be held hostage to the unpredictability of Middle East fossil fuel.

An action plan to end oil and jumpstart renewable energy solutions was the focal point of the fourth annual Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Conference held in the Red Sea city of Eilat in February. Just a couple of miles from the Egyptian border, the world’s renewable energy leaders met to put some serious business offers on the table in the hopes of creating more sustainable energy sources for powering their city’s malls, homes and cars into the future.

While last year talk was all about policymaking, this year attendees were striking real deals, says Dorit Banet, executive director of the Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Administration and co-chair of the annual conference. "A lot of the conference was about the importance of leaving our dependence of the oil. This is part of how we leverage renewable energy."

A renewable energy high

Government leaders, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and bankers attended lectures on creating renewable energy standards, doing business with China, working with the clean-tech media and enabling a smart grid. A whole lot of networking took place, even poolside at the two luxury hotels that hosted the event.

One participant told Banet that he’d never had so many business meetings in a 24-hour period, with little room to breathe. Banet stressed that holding such a conference in Israel has some relevance due to the abundant solutions and sunshine here, but the ‘Israeli-ness’ of the event didn’t define it. "The headline here is that it’s really the best kind of networking event for sustainable energy – not only solar energy, but for smart grid, wind energy, the EPV and more," she says. Details were not yet public regarding the deals made over handshakes between various entrepreneurs, companies and investors, but Banet did mention a huge deal between a solar energy inverter company and a French mall developer.

Highlighted were some very good inventions for enabling solar energy, she adds, but also new technologies for bettering vehicle efficiency and shaking off the world’s dependence on oil. "I felt that this is one of the conferences that people came from faraway places in the world just to be a part of," she says, estimating the attendee count at about 1,800.

The Eilot region, which encompasses Eilat, is also a beta site for many of the newly formed Israeli technologies and solar power projects. Included in the event were field trips to some of the country’s most exciting solar energy projects, like the Arava Power installation at Kibbutz Ketura, the solar flower-power of Aora – which channels solar energy from multiple mirrors onto a large floral-shaped collection station – and the passive cooling tower installed at Kibbutz Neot Smadar.

Judging by the huge lines at the airport going in and out of Eilat, conference-goers from across the globe were cognizant of the two-for-one element of the event. This year, since Israel occupies the chair of the European research and development network EUREKA, European leaders from this forum came to Eilat and enjoyed parallel sessions with the Eilat-Eilot conference.

One keynote speaker was Dr. Dan Arvizu, director and chief executive of the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Representatives of Deutsche Bank and VCs from the United States were also mingling among the crowd, greeting notables including Nobel Prize winner Prof. Yisrael Aumann from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

"They found the best people they can find to make business with," says Banet. "The level of the lectures was very high. And the best speakers came from all over the world. Of course it’s an international conference, but one people felt they could travel very far to participate in. And it was here, in Israel."

By Rivka Borochov,