Renewable Energies for the Future in the Arava

Thursday, July 16, 2015 3:09 PM

A study day on Energy in the near Future was held at the new Renewable Energies Center in the Negev’s Arava region.

A study day on Energy in the near Future was held at the Renewable Energies Center in the Negev’s Arava region. Construction of the center, which was undertaken with the support of KKL-JNF and its Friends in Australia and the USA, as well as other partners, was completed just a few weeks ago. The facility includes research and development laboratories, a visitors’ center and an auditorium for conferences. The study day was the opening event for this lively new venue that will engage in extensive research activities and host a variety of professional and educational conferences.

The Silicon Valley of renewable energy

Auditorim with solar lighting, donated by Friends of JNF Australia. Photo: Yoav DevirThe Renewable Energies Center was built in accordance with strict environmental principles: double-glazed doors let in the sunlight but keep the heat out, thus saving on electricity for lighting and air conditioning; solar panels use the sun to produce electricity that supplies most of the center’s energy needs; and solar tubes disseminate the sunlight entering the building, providing natural lighting with no need for electricity.

“Great things are happening with energy in Israel and in our region too and this is why we’ve decided to devote a study day to this topic,” explained Dr Hanan Ginat, a geologist at the Dead Sea and Arava Science Center.

The Arava is the Silicon Valley of renewable energies, declared Udi Gat, Chairman of the The Renewable Energy Center in the Arava. Photo: Yoav DevirHevel Eilot Regional Council, in his speech of welcome that launched the study day proceedings. “It’s important to discuss renewable energy both as an end in itself - for conserving the world - and also as a means to attract new residents to the Eilot region and boost the local economy. We call upon our children and other young people: come and live in the Arava and work in the sciences! In this building we have laboratories of different kinds with twenty researchers working in them.”

The Renewable Energies Center’s Blumenthal Auditorium, where the study day took place, was established with funds donated by the estate of Ursula and Fritz Blumenthal of Perth, Australia. Stuart Silbert, a family friend who is also the estate’s executor, sent a message of congratulations in which he expressed his pleasure at learning of the inauguration of the new auditorium and his confidence that activities at the center would contribute to the lives of the local people, to the State of Israel and to the world as a whole.

Research and development in renewable energies

Geologist Yossi Langotsky talks about oil and gas discoveries in the Mediterranean. Photo: Yoav DevirAfter the speeches of welcome, the lectures began. Geologist Yossi Langotsky, an expert in drilling for oil and gas, opened the proceedings with a talk on discoveries and trends in the search for oil and gas in the Mediterranean Sea. “The Israeli discoveries can supply the country’s gas consumption needs for the next fifty years,” he said. “This gas offers added independence and income and it will contribute to Israel’s economy and security.”

With regard to the gas agreement currently taking shape in Israel, he expressed the following personal opinion: “We’re now at the stage of enjoying the success of the searches. There’s a moral dilemma as to whether or not we allow the gas to be exported. The interests of the private companies are in opposition to those of the State. They want to earn as much as possible as soon as possible, but if we export forty percent of the gas, what will happen in another twenty-five years, when supplies run out?”

Solar panel field at Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava. Photo: Yoav DevirRenewable Energies Center CEO Dorit Banet reviewed developments in the field and explained that renewable energy stems from ongoing inexhaustible natural processes – mainly those of the sun, wind and water. This clean energy, she said, can reduce the pollution and ecological damage caused by fossil fuels.

“Gas and oil will eventually run out, but the sun and the wind will always be with us,” she said. “We have to keep on searching for suitable technologies and develop a renewable energies industry for the benefit of Israel and the rest of the world. This will not happen overnight, but it is the direction in which the world is heading.”

KKL-JNF does a great deal to promote research and development in the field of renewable energies in Israel, with special emphasis on the Arava region. The Arava’s extreme climate is actually an advantage where these types of energy are concerned, as its wide open spaces experience powerful solar radiation on most days throughout the year. One interesting technique currently under examination by KKL-JNF is the placing of solar panels on reservoirs in order to produce clean electricity while at the same preventing evaporation of the water.

Physicist Dr. Jürgen Kleinwächter presents solar powered greenhouses. Photo: Yoav DevirDr. Jürgen Kleinwächter, a German physicist who specializes in greenhouses equipped with solar energy production systems, explained how crop yields could be enhanced in this way. He also expressed great admiration for the renewable energy activities underway in the Arava: “You’ve got an opportunity here to do something significant for the future,” he said. “The desert inspires us all.”

Dr. Uzi Avner explained how we can save electricity by learning from ancient building techniques. “For thousands of years people lived in the desert without air conditioning or running water,” he said. “If we were to build in accordance with the ancient construction principles developed in the desert, we could save a great many hours of air conditioning.” Wind direction and the angle of the sun are among the factors that need to be taken into consideration, and buildings should be built lengthwise from east to west with large openings to the south for optimal ventilation, he explained.

Ben Gurion University's Alex Cicelsky demonstrates green building principles using a model. Photo: Yoav Devir“Heating isn’t much of a problem in the Arava, the challenge is cooling things down,” said Alex Cicelsky of Ben Gurion University’s Center for Creative Ecology. To illustrate his explanations he arrived equipped with a model that helped him to demonstrate to his audience how airy, shady, well insulated and energy-saving buildings can be constructed.

Architect Itai Eshhar, who designed the Renewable Energies Center, spoke about the green principles underlying the Center’s construction on the site of an existing old and neglected building. “We created openings with high-quality insulating glass, so as to provide natural illumination,” he said. “Some of the interior walls and doors are also made of glass in order to facilitate the passage of external light deep into the building and its public spaces. We clad the plaster in Styrofoam to provide insulation and installed additional insulation material on the roof. In the future we intend to create a structure that will hover above the existing building to provide shade.”

Steam-powered water heating system. Photo: Yoav DevirDan Sagie, Chief Scientist at Capital Nature, a company that develops technologies for the production of renewable energies, presented some of the projects the company is currently developing in conjunction with the Center for Renewable Energies. Interesting initiatives underway include energy-storing systems, satellite photo analysis for the location of sites suitable for solar-energy stations, the use of power lines for vehicle propulsion, solar powered air conditioning and gas powered domestic lighting.

After the lecture, the study day participants visited the Center’s laboratories and listened to researchers’ explanations regarding a number of their innovative projects such as heating water by means of steam, a compact electric trolley and an electric bus propelled by power lines instead of by a large, heavy and expensive battery.

A solar field and a model village

Model hut in Kibbutz Ketura's off-grid village, with solar panel on top. Photo: Yoav DevirListening to lectures in an auditorium is not enough - it’s best to get out into the field, too, and see how things actually work - and when the study day was over, the participants set out for a tour of Kibbutz Ketura’s new solar field and its off-grid model village.

Ketura’s solar farm is one of eleven of its kind now in operation in kibbutzim in the Arava; it extends over an area of some 400 dunam (around 100 acres) and produces 40 megawatts of electricity. The visitors observed the solar field from the dizzy heights of boom lifts normally used for picking dates in the grove nearby.

Avital Nosinov, Educational Coordinator at the the Arava Power Company, guided the group and explained that 60% of the area’s electricity consumption, including that of Eilat, is derived from solar energy. By 2020 solar energy is expected to supply 100% of local consumption needs, and surplus electricity will be transferred northwards.

Biogas system turns organic waste into energy for heating, lighting and cooking. Photo: Yoav DevirA small African-style village has been constructed at Kibbutz Ketura in order to demonstrate life off grid, i.e., without electricity, running water or sewage facilities. Dorit Banet explained that this is not a tourist attraction but an experimental site where the finest physicists, chemists and biologists develop technologies that can help billions of people who live without the benefit of modern conveniences. Various products developed in this way have been sold to countries in Africa and Asia, as well as to Bedouin villages in Israel.

Among the unique technologies on offer at the site are a solar panel that can be adjusted manually to suit the angle of the sun; a heater based on vacuum tubes; an oven that bakes cookies in a pipe heated by the sun; a biogas apparatus that turns organic rubbish into energy for cooking, heating and lighting and also produces liquid fertilizer for growing crops; a solar-powered water desalinator; and an apparatus that produces electricity from boiling water. These different types of technology are on show in huts constructed from mud and straw, which provide excellent insulation. Holes in the roof let in light and illuminate the rooms without recourse to electricity.

In this way Israeli ecological hi-tech developed in the Arava benefits nations in the Third World and helps to improve quality of life for many of those who live in developing countries.

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