David Anthony on the Future of Israeli Clean Technology

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Manyarticles have been written claiming that Israel can become a leader inclean technology over the next ten years. Maybe, maybe not.

Defining the terms: In order to make this prediction with any degreeof accuracy, we need to define ‘clean’ technology. To date, clean orgreen technology, often referred to as clean tech is composed ofseveral categories and sub-categories including, although notexclusively:

* Renewable energy (Solar, Wind)
* Energy efficiency
* Storage
* Pollution remediation
* Water purification/desalinization
* Agricultural advancement

Dispersion of clean tech knowledge: Part of the challenge ofestablishing a center of excellence for clean tech is that, unlike IT,its genesis can take place at any university or laboratory around theworld.

The necessity of a Silicon Valley or Route 128 has been lessened bythe fact that electrical engineering is no longer the only academicbackground required to solve environmental and energy challenges.Microbiology and chemistry graduates are more likely candidates to findemployment at clean tech startups than their electrical engineeringcounterparts. The universe of clean tech companies which been createdin the Internet age have cropped up all over the globe, seemingly withno bias toward any particular climate or time zone.

Israel as the Future Clean Tech Epicenter – The Pros:

Various places lend themselves to certain clean orgreen technology sectors; solar technology in the Middle East, forexample. Due to the country’s urgent need for reliable solutions todeal with its own environmental challenges (mainly the water crisis)Israel’s clean tech market has become very attractive to foreigninvestment.

Despite being one of the world’s most arid regions, experiencingever-growing water consumption and alarmingly low levels of rainfall,Israel has succeeded where others have failed.

Water demands have been answered over the past few decades byeffective water management, including rain harvesting, flood reservoirsand the introduction of innovative irrigation methods serving theiragricultural demands.

Significant advances in desalination of seawater, recycling andpurifying municipal wastewaters, and reclaiming sewage waters have beenachieved by Israelis. At least 30 percent of agricultural water isdrip-irrigated to orchards and non-food crops. Relatively speaking,Israel has devoted more resources to the development of wastewatertreatment and reclamation than any other country in the world.

Israel has a head start in experience with solar thermal as nearly all apartment buildings there have simple solar thermal panels on their roofs.Motivated more out of will to survive than a hunger to solveenvironmental issues, Israel has more reason than most nations to weanitself off of crude oil.

While every country wants to lessen its dependence on crude oil, forIsrael it’s personal. This may prove to be one of the most compellingarguments for why the relatively small nation state may indeed becomethe next epicenter of clean technology innovation.

Israel is home to Ormat,one of the leading companies in the world for geo-thermal power plantsand recovered energy in the world. In agriculture, Israel is thebirthplace and world leader in drip irrigation, literally turning a dessert into an agricultural country. Netafimis the world leading company in this field. In the storage arena,Israeli Tadiran has become one of the leaders in long-life industrialstrength batteries. The fact that Israel is located centrally, witheasy access to Asia and Europe have enabled these companies to realizecustomers on several continents while operating from Israel.

Israel as the Future Clean Tech Epicenter – The Cons

To date, there are no leading Israeli solar power companies on themarket today and Luz 1 was a failure. There is an innate inertia atwork in Israel to stick to what it knows best – I.T. and telecom,stifling potential investment and devotion of talent toward cleantechnology. While there is no shortage of smart scientists and cleantech research, there is a surprising lack of clean tech entrepreneurs.

Historically, Israelis are good at improvisational thinking withinan already established category (think ICQ). Clean tech, however is acompletely new paradigm that requires category builders more thanimprovements. One need only look at the mass of ‘technology refugees’to see that Israeli’s have been slow to adapt to the new opportunitiesin clean technology.

Conversely, technology entrepreneurs within the US have beenmigrating over to the clean technology sector in greater numbers. Partof the reason that this migration has been slow is that the Israelientrepreneurs and scientists are too isolated from one another.Overtures from one side to the other are missing. Furthermore,scientists are slow to leave their tenure posts at universities forbusiness ideas that are admittedly a few years out from provingthemselves.

Lastly, Israel is a small country. Currently, there just aren’tenough demonstration projects to show to the rest of the world. Withoutthe significant helping hand of a large government endowment, Israel’schances of competing with the likes of the US, China and India seemunlikely. The same location that provides regular and dependableexposure to the sun leaves Israel in a region of the world almostbereft of wind when compared to Europe and the Americas. Notsurprisingly, there isn’t much wind energy in use, nor are there many wind experts.

What must be done?

More dating between university research and entrepreneurs is theonly way to create a marriage of industry and science. This effort,coupled with a shift in focus from the Office of the Chief Scientist,placing more grant money in the hands of clean tech companies(currently it represents less than 15 percent) needs to occur forIsrael to distinguish itself from its alternatives.

In summary, Israel must realize that clean tech is certain to be onethe growth industries of the next ten years. To truly lead the world inclean tech investment and innovation, Israel must have greater supportfrom the state.

About guest poster David Anthony:
David Anthony is an experienced entrepreneur, venture capitalist, andeducator. Mr. Anthony sits on the board of portfolio companies: AgentVideo Intelligence, 3GSolar,BioPetroClean, Juice Wireless, and VOIP Logic. David is on the board ofdirectors of publicly traded World Water and Solar, there he functionsas the chairman of the audit committee and chair of the compensationcommittee.

(This article first appeared as an Op-Ed on ISRAEL21c – www.israel21c.org)

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