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Israel’s Electric Car Plan to Reduce Oil Dependence

On Mon. (Jan. 21) the Israeli government announced its support of an ambitious plan to install the world’s first electric car network in Israel by 2011. [1] The initiative is aimed at addressing global dependence on foreign oil from undemocratic regimes and mitigating the health and environmental damages caused by emissions from gas-burning vehicles. [2] Said Israeli President Shimon Peres, “Today is a new age with new dangers and the greatest danger is that of oil. It is the greatest polluter of our age and oil is the greatest financier of terror.” [3]

In a joint venture, Project Better Place, owned by Israeli-American entrepreneur Shai Agassi, will provide lithium-ion batteries and the infrastructure to refresh or replace them, while Renault and Nissan will build the cars. With the goal of making Israel a laboratory test for a new model of environmentally efficient transportation, Israel will offer tax incentives to purchasers. [4]

The innovative model, developed by Agassi, would provide consumers with inexpensive cars, and they would pay a monthly fee for expected mileage, like minutes on a cellphone plan. Project Better Place will provide infrastructure including parking meter-like plugs on city streets or service stations along highways at which batteries can be replaced. [5]

Peres, who was first exposed to Agassi’s idea at a 2006 meeting of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum, strongly promoted Israel’s involvement. “Oil is becoming the greatest problem of our time,” not only polluting, but “it also supports terror and violence from Venezuela to Iran.” [6]

Idan Ofer, chairman of Tel Aviv-based industrials conglomerate Israel Corp., provided the initiative half of its $200 million funding. Building on the idea of Israel as an experimental laboratory for environmental technology, Ofer has begun targeting China and India, two countries with burgeoning oil consumption and attendant environmental hazards. Ofer said that if Agassi’s plan works in Israel, “it will work even better in China. Their pollution is killing them and the rest of us, too.” [7] And in Mumbai, he said, “you can’t even see the sky.” [8]

Israel’s noted innovations in energy technology may also be utilized in generating “green” electricity for the project, specifically a plan involving the Negev desert, huge mirrors and solar energy in development by Professor David Faiman of Ben-Gurion University in southern Israel. [9]

Israel’s efforts to contribute environmental technologies also recently culminated in the passage of the American-Israeli joint energy research bill, signed into law by U.S. President George W. Bush in Dec. 2007. Speaking when the bill first passed in the House of Representatives, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert emphasized that “both our countries share a desire for energy security and prevention of global warming.” [10]

Israel has been on the forefront of developing alternative energy technology and is a significant center for alternative energy research and development. More than 200 Israeli firms have so far developed environmental or energy-related technology. [11]

Israeli companies have been working to provide alternative energy in the U.S. for decades. From 1984 to 1991, Israeli technology built nine solar plants in southern California. The plants are still operational today, eliminating the need for nearly two million barrels of oil each year and providing electricity to millions of Americans. [12] Today, an American and Israeli company are working together in Nevada to build the largest solar power plant since 1992. [13]

Europe has already begun working with Israel on alternative energy research. On June 9, 2007, German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel pledged nearly $2.2 million from his ministry to four separate German-Israeli alternative energy projects. [14]

Israel’s alternative energy expertise includes seven universities that produce a higher number of engineers and scientists per capita than any other nation. [15] The country also has 67.5 square meters of solar collectors per 100 people, the highest per-capita rate of solar collectors in the world. [16]

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