Global warming is happening at an exponential rate. From weather records being broken every month to polar ice caps melting to ocean levels rising, it’s getting next to impossible to ignore the clear warning signs. Despite this, fossil fuels continue to be the primary source of power around the world.
It’s not all gloom and doom though. There are scientists and innovators who have worked tirelessly and continue to work to bring alternative energy sources to the forefront of the global energy discussion.
Two of those innovators are Yosef Abramowitz and Sivan Ya’ari. Yosef Abramowitz, is president and co-founder of Energiya, an Israeli company bringing affordable solar projects to the world. He is a three-time finalist for the Nobel Peace Prize and ran for president in Israel in 2014. Sivan Ya’ari, founder and CEO of Innovation: Africa, is harnessing Israeli innovation to bring solar powered wells, refrigeration and clean water to more than 750,000 people in seven African countries.
What role does solar power play within the overall energy “mix”? Can it ever really power the entire world?
Yosef Abramowitz: It can power the world during the day and with storage technologies advancing, it will be able to be used to power the world more consistently. We will need a mix though depending on weather and other natural resources such as wind and hydro. John Kerry said it best at COP21 in Paris. “The solution to climate change is energy policy.” This means we must stop burning fuels ASAP and solar is a big part of the solution.
Did a specific event occur for both of you to become interested in this field? Or has this been an ongoing interest dating many years back?
Sivan Ya’ari: I was lucky to work a global company doing work in Africa in my early twenties and this was the first time that I saw real poverty. It is funny for me to say because I grew up in Israel as what I percei ved to be poor but was nothing in comparison. I was actually quite lucky growing up. After seeing the challenges and understanding that most of it is caused by the lack of access to energy, I came to Israel because I remember seeing as a child in Israel solar panels on top of every roof. Soon I realized that Israel has the technology to pump water and to grow food to fit the needs of remote villages in Africa…all with solar power.
Yosef: I was interested in solar ever since Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House, then in high school, and then making aliya to kibbutz ketura in the sunny Arava.
What is the most difficult challenge in making solar energy scalable?
Yosef: Politics and regulation and entrenched fossil fuel interests
Sivan: In remote villages and more specifically when we install solar energy in schools and medical centers, one of our concerns in the beginning was who is going to replace the batteries and the light bulbs in a few years. Lucky enough, we quickly realized, that although they do not have much food nor shoes, they do have cell phones. Yet, there is no electricity to charge the phone. So we started by creating businesses in each one of projects where people are coming, charging their phones and this money is collected by the management of the school or the medical center and is used to underwrite the cost of ongoing maintenance, more specifically replacing the batteries and light bulbs. Today, after 8 years, we are pleased to say that most of the businesses are making more money than there is need for the sustainability of the project.
Why does it seem like Africa always the test bed for solar energy?
Yosef: Actually, I’m not sure Africa is the test bed. The need there is greatest and what Sivan is doing to bring distributed solar is making a big difference. The solar technologies are really tested elsewhere, including Israel.
Sivan: Since we are working in very remote villages, we are making sure to bring the most efficient technology to African villages. We are also lucky that our solar [power] system is set up in a way that is allowing us to remotely monitor all of the systems installed in our projects from any computer. And this was invented by our engineers here in Israel!
Seems like Israel is really committed to expanding natural gas exploration. Do you think this is mistake?
Yosef: Big mistake since it is holding back solar and we are in both a fault zone and a war zone
Sivan, can you explain how you got started with the solar well projects and tell a little bit about the impact they’ve had?
Sivan: This video will explain how we are pumping water in villages using solar energy. Once you pump water to a village, it is amazing to see the changes. Now children are going to school and do not search for water. People do not get water borne diseases and are therefore healthier. Thanks to drip irrigation that we are installing, more food is now being grown and people have access to better nutrition.
Yosef- can you talk about what your role was at the Paris [climate] talks? Was it a game-changing breakthrough?
Yosef: I was really honored to be part of the delegation and speak for the country at one point. I was also the only kipah among 45,000 people. Israel was really just a footnote, but we did get to demonstrate how our technology can help save the world.
Read the entire conversation at MySababa.