Solarized in Israel's South
The south of Israel has long been famous for the world-class research institutes and companies it has produced in the solar energy field. Now it looks like the region will put its money where its mouth is, and set up its own renewable energy infrastructure, based mainly on solar power. With plenty of unused desert land and some of the strongest solar radiation in the world, Israel's extreme south is an ideal spot for solar self-reliance. Miles away from national infrastructures, the resort city of Eilat and the neighboring Eilot region, consisting mainly of kibbutzim (some of them very environmentally-oriented themselves), are creating a regional authority to promote renewable energy production.
Land taxes and zoning will be altered, and every community in the area will be encouraged to allocate land at the edge of its agricultural areas to solar panel farms. Although energy will still have to be drawn from the national grid at night (one of solar's shortcomings), it will be sold to the grid during the day. A technology incubator will also be set up in the region, and private companies will be encouraged to set up shop there as well.
The region currently gets its energy through high-tension power lines from a coal-fired power plant in the coastal city of Ashkelon, some 150 miles away. The extensive distribution infrastructure translates into higher electricity costs for residents of the extreme south than in the rest of the country - making solar energy a more cost-competitive option. While the project's organizers hope to attain initial government funding to get the project set up, the idea is to be independently competitive within a short time.
The project grew out of the changing circumstances in Israel's south. With agriculture, traditionally a strong source of income, becoming less economically worthwhile, and another source of income - Eilat's fish cages - being taken out of commission due to environmental concerns, the region has had to rethink its development model. On the other hand, with environmental awareness coming into the mainstream and solar power becoming more competitive all the time, the region decided to exploit its comparative advantage. In June 2007, the First International Conference on Sustainable Energy as a Catalyst for Regional Development was held, with the participation of Jordanian officials from the neighboring city of Aqaba, which gave birth to the idea.