Israel’s burgeoning high tech industry is a sign of the country’s intelligence and ingenuity, but another development will actually make Israel brighter — solar power.
Arava Power, an independent power company in southern Israel, announced this week that it would begin construction on the country’s first solar field, a $25 million project that would feed environmentally sound electricity into Israel’s mostly coal-dependent power grid. And at the helm of Arava is none other than David Rosenblatt, a native Pittsburgher.
Rosenblatt, 45, “graduated from Allderdice sometime in the ’80,” he said with a laugh. He then attended Penn State before becoming a lawyer, eventually going back to school and entering the world of business. Rosenblatt went on to co-found QuickenLoans, a leading online lender, and online real estate site Move, Inc., before starting Arava with Ed Hofland and Yosef Abramowitz.
Arava Power launched in Israel as a forerunner of the solar power wave that swept the country in the last three years.
“When we started, I’d talk to people about solar power in Israel, and they’d laugh at me,” said Rosenblatt. “Now they tell me, ‘You should really look at this solar thing, it’s becoming huge!’ ”
Rosenblatt watched as his company led “literally hundreds of companies doing solar power in Israel now,” he said. “And we’re the largest as we were the first. Hopefully, we can maintain that.”
Building Israel’s first solar field won’t hurt the chances.
A solar field is a huge conglomeration of solar panels converting sunshine into power. Solar fields most often lay flat on several acres of land, but could even float on water, said Rosenblatt. The output, of course, is much larger than a rooftop panel.
“Your average home panel generates between five and 10 kilowatts,” he said, “but a field would generate 5,000 times more energy than any rooftop.”
Arava’s first solar field is set to be completed and functioning sometime in the second quarter, said Rosenblatt. It will sit on 20 acres of land near Kibbutz Ketura outside of Eilat, and will produce 4.95 megawatts of energy, enough to power about 4,000 homes. Future solar fields could produce as much as 200 megawatts.
Instead of the panels feeding energy directly into a household, though, a solar field generates energy that becomes a part of an area’s power grid. In other words, the solar energy becomes no different than any other electricity flowing through power lines, but it was created in a much cleaner way.
Though construction on the solar field is about to begin, Rosenblatt said the road there was rocky.
“Israel is a country that is very small, and all the land is spoken for,” he said. “The government regulates it heavily. Even land you think is owned by private entities is really leased by government. Land is a sensitive issue. In order to get that tract of land to produce solar power, you have to change how land policy is done.”
Arava also encountered resistance from an existing utility. According to Rosenblatt, the Israel Electric Corporation, which supplies most of the power in Israel, was wary of “allowing a private company to produce power to feed the grid.”
The benefit of a new, clean source of energy for Israel, said Rosenblatt, is more than just environmental, and is logistically more crucial than solar power in the United States.
“Think about us. If our state doesn’t produce electricity, we’ll get it from our neighbors, New York or West Virginia,” said Rosenblatt. “Israel is an energy island. If Israel doesn’t produce energy, its neighbors won’t help.”
Pioneering a new industry in Israel has been “rewarding on many levels,” Rosenblatt said. “This is really meaningful for the long-term demand for electricity. It’s helping the economy and the individual. I’m helping something I really care about.”
(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)