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Monday, July 09, 2012

CNN and NYT report on Israeli solar pioneer

Yosef Abramowitz has helped create the Middle East's first commercial solar power on an Israeli kibbutz.



 The NYT covered this in April:
Arriving at this bone-dry kibbutz in the Arava Desert late one afternoon in August 2006, Yosef Abramowitz, a social activist, Jewish educator and multimedia entrepreneur from Boston, opened the door of his van and was hit by a wall of heat.
“The sun was setting, but it was still burning,” he said. “I remember the sensation.”
Later, unable to sleep, he rose about 5 a.m. and stepped outside as the sun was coming up over the mountains of Jordan. “It was so hot already,” he recalled. “I said to myself, ‘This whole place must work onsolar power.’ ”
Then he found out that was not true.
So Mr. Abramowitz, who had spent six months at Ketura in the early 1980s as part of a Young Judaea program, quickly abandoned his plans to spend a quiet family sabbatical with his wife and children in southern Israel. Instead, he went into partnership with Ed Hofland, a businessman from the kibbutz, and David Rosenblatt, an investor and strategist from New Jersey, to found theArava Power Company, now the leading commercial developer of solar power in Israel.
After more than five years of political and regulatory battles with the Israeli authorities, the company has transformed 20 acres of a sand-colored field on the edge of the communal farm. It now glistens with neat rows of photovoltaic panels from China — 18,600 in all — that harness the sun. There is no smoke, only a slight buzz in the spotless rooms where the panels’ current is turned into electricity that can be fed into the electrical grid. Small openings in the perimeter fence allow animals to cross the field.
Depending on the time of year and rate of energy consumption, this field provides power for as many as five communities.
Siemens, the German conglomerate, was brought in as a partner and invested $15 million, and its Israeli branch built the field. The Jewish National Fund, a century-old Zionist group most associated with planting trees in Israel, made an unusual strategic investment of $3 million in a twist on the early national ideal of trying to make the desert bloom.
In forging a path for commercial solar energy, Mr. Abramowitz said he endured regulatory battles involving two dozen agencies as big as the Israeli Agriculture Ministry and as small as the local planning agency on issues like zoning changes and renewable energy quotas.
Along the way, Mr. Abramowitz — who left the kibbutz for Jerusalem in 2009 but still visits often — became known in Ketura as Captain Sunshine. “He got his nickname, first, because of his sunny personality,” said Elaine Solowey, a member of the kibbutz, “and, second, because anyone who beats the government bureaucracy is a superhero.”