Resource-poor Israel drives to become leader in clean technologies
JERUSALEM — After a successful run of high-tech and computer-related innovation, Israel is focusing its ambitions on the next big thing — preparing the world for life without coal and oil.
Israel is driving to become a world leader in alternative energy, with the government throwing its support behind cutting-edge technologies. The number of private entrepreneurs entering the so-called “clean-tech’’ sector has swelled dramatically.
Already, a number of firms are moving to roll out new ideas. Perhaps the country’s best known clean-tech company — Project Better Place — aims next year to activate a network of charging stations for electric cars across Israel, which would be one of the most extensive such grids in the world.
Others are still in early stages. On a 10-meter stretch of a north Israel highway, the firm Innowattech tested out its system of tile-like generators, which are installed under roads and convert the weight and motion of passing vehicles into electricity. It is now looking to expand, claiming that a kilometer-long lane of its generators could power more than 200 households.
Alex Klein, an analyst at Emerging Energy Research, a Cambridge, Mass., research firm, said Israel — a country of fewer than 8 million people — has in a way benefited from its small size, forcing it to develop products for export.
“Given that it has a small market locally, its role will continue to be innovating new next-generation technology. Pound for pound it is a pretty key incubator of technologies,’’ he said.
Israel already has a formidable track record. Bolstered in large part by veterans of shadowy high-tech military units, the country helped develop such innovations as instant messaging, Internet telephony, and wireless computer chips.
The government is now pushing for that entrepreneurial drive to be directed into environmentally clean technologies, not only as an economic opportunity but as a necessity for an arid, resource-poor nation. Israel, which now depends almost entirely for its energy on imported coal and natural gas, has set a goal to have 10 percent of its electricity generated by alternative means by 2020.
In November, the government approved a plan to spend $600 million over the next decade to reach that goal, with much of the money poured into encouraging green construction and development of new technologies.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented the plan as a security necessity.
“I view this as a national goal of the highest importance because the addiction to oil has led to the Western world being dependent on the oil-producing countries and harms the standing and security of the state of Israel,’’ he said.
In real terms, the country still lags far behind clean-tech giants such as Japan, Germany, and the United States. But that may change as Israel’s clean-tech sector revs up. In the third quarter, investments in the sector totaled $120 million, half of all private-equity investment in Israel.
Eight Israeli companies have been named in each of the past two years to the Global Cleantech 100 — a respected industry barometer of the top 100 companies worldwide. Only the United States and Great Britain had more companies named.