Energy Forum 5: Renewable energy R&D needs

Cite As:
Grossman Gershon, Ayalon Ofira. Energy Forum 5: Renewable energy R&D needs Haifa Israel: Samuel Neaman Institute, 2007.

1. Introduction
The Samuel Neaman Institute for Advanced Research in Science and Technology, within the framework of its activity in the energy field, conducts meetings of the Energy Forum, devoted to discussions and debate over energy related issues of national importace.
The Energy Forum holds focused discussions regarding specified themes, and teams of subject-matter experts are invited to participate. The aim of these focused debates is to deliberate over specific and relevant questions; enable dialogue and coordination between participating bodies; and develop recommendations on implementation strategies for advancing the subject at hand that could then be presented to decision-makers.
So far a number of meetings were conducted: Electricity from Photovoltaic Systems (February, 2006); Combined Heat and Power -Cogeneration Systems (May, 2006); Waste To Energy (October, 2006) and Solar Energy for the Production of Heat (January, 2007).


The focus of the present meeting of the Energy Forum was devoted to identifying possible directions of research and development in the different fields of alternative energies in Israel. While countries around the world spend resources and time into research and implementation of clean energies, Israel, a country that for years was a key example for taking advantage of solar energy, is loosing its edge in these areas, partly due to diminishing finance for R&D.

With the aim of providing a thorough discussion of this subject, the present meeting of the Energy Forum took place at the Samuel Neaman Institute at the Technion on February 26th 2007. Many experts from industry, academia, governmental departments and the public and private sectors participated. The Forum participants were selected with great care for their thematic expertise and have formed, undoubtedly, a unique group of first-rate professionals qualified for giving an overview of the subject at hand. This meeting was conducted jointly with the Israeli National Committee for Research and Development

During the first part of the meeting several participants presented information about Israeli activities in different fields of alternative energy technologies, discussing technological and economic considerations and set-backs while giving an insight as to areas requiring further R&D. A complete record of the presentations can be found here.


During the second part of the meeting the participants engaged in an open discussion regarding the issues presented and the operative conclusions that could be derived from them.


This brief synopsis provides highlights of the ˜Summary and Conclusions" chapter from the full report (in Hebrew). The goal is to present these recommendations to decision makers and create the momentum for placing the State of Israel in the forefront of nations developing and using green energy systems. Forum participants were in complete agreement about the need for public awareness campaigns, hoping that they will serve as a call for action to regulators and government legislators.


The global forecast of the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) shows that in the year 2040, the part of alternative energies will reach almost half of all energy sources of the world. With this in view, it is clear that research and development is needed in almost all fields of the alternative energy sector, and in each of these fields it is necessary to define the needs of R&D and their preferences.
Generally speaking, mature technologies usually need R&D in the area of maximizing the efficiency of energy production and minimizing production costs. Technologies on the brink of market implementation need R&D to assist in stabilizing system production and maximizing return of investment rates or improving processes, and of course it is also necessary to identify the R&D needs for new technologies, still in development stages.


Promoting Research and development of alternative energies - Prof. Dan Zaslavski
There are a few good reasons for switching to renewable energies. First of all, the fact that fossil energy resources are limited, makes developing alternative energy sources essential. The fluctuations of the oil market affect national income and are another reason for switching to renewables. Along with that, environmental damage, both local and global, such as global warming, damage to flora and fauna and health damages to humans are making way for cleaner energies. Consuming less fossil fuel is also a way for small countries like Israel to minimize dependence on other countries and to prevent penalties associated with not being in compliance with the Kyoto Protocol.
Investing in R&D of alternative energies is expected to give a return of 50$ for every investment of 1$. The investment funds should be divided between basic research and research in fields identified as implemental, in academic and governmental institutes and between research for the industrial sector and research aimed at developing and operating functioning models and beta sites.


Where is Photovoltaic R&D going today? Prof. David Cahan
There is a wide range of photo-voltaic cells based on the use of various materials. The important themes for comparison are energy production efficiency, cell stability and costs.
Over 90% of cells use crystalline silicon, having a heavy impact on this resource's availability and limiting energy production efficiency. It is clear that one area of R&D is developing photovoltaic cells that use other materials. Concentrating sun rays is also vital to maximizing efficiency, as are systems for tracking the sun and changing the angle of collectors. These areas should also be in the center of R&D in this field.


Using solar energy for producing heat - Prof. Gershon Grossman
There are three principle ways that can be used to derive energy from the sun's energy: photovoltaic cells that produce electricity directly, solar-thermal systems for producing high temperatures and solar-thermal systems for producing medium and low temperatures.
The use of solar systems for producing heat in the industrial sector makes more sense than its use in the residential sector for a few reasons. First of all, most industries operate mostly during the days, eliminating the need for heat storage. Industry buildings also usually enjoy big roof areas that can be easily accommodated with solar systems. Installation costs are usually cheaper per produced unit in industrial systems and most industries can take care to some degree of maintenance. With all these advantages, it is strange to see that Israel holds the world record for solar use in the domestic sector; where as the industrial sector still lags far behind. As a means of saving energy on a national basis, it is strongly recommended to hold an inventory of Israeli industries that could put solar heating systems to good use, and to review the range of temperatures needed.
Further areas for future R&D are:


  • Solar systems for producing heat in the medium temperature range.
  • Research of different kinds of collectors.
  • Systems for storing heat.
  • Systems for combined production of heat and electricity.

Wind energy - Prof. Aviv Rosen
2006 was a record year for producing energy from the wind all over the world. 15,197 MW were installed, bringing the wind energy production capacity to a sum of 74,223 MW at the end of 2006.
Wind turbines have quite a few advantages since they require minimal costs for operation and maintenance, seeing as the main cost is installation. Their use of space is also very small, compared to other technologies, and with today's turbines that are relatively quite, they allow for provision of countryside landscape and activities.
One of today's aims in wind turbine R&D is to develop systems that can be economically efficient in areas with medium speed winds. this would enlarge wind energy implementation tremendously. This should be possible by developing systems with a bigger rotor, lighter materials rotors, as well as quieter and cheaper systems.


Fuel cells for storing energy - Prof. Emanuel Peled
The difference between a fuel cell and a battery is that fuel cells are continuously supplied with fuel (hydrogen) and oxygen. The cells produce electricity, heat and water. On the other hand, batteries work on an electro-chemical system that uses materials far too expensive to allow energy storage at high capacities. The process of charging and discharging also results in mechanical and chemical deformations of the electrodes, making battery life spans very limited.
Fuel cells, therefore, are the focus of research of systems for storing energy for use at later periods, systems that are essential, for instance, to allow solar facilities to supply the energy market around the clock. The focal points for research are stabilizing the cells, enhancing output, enabling higher storage volumes while using smaller and cheaper cells.


R&D needs in increased efficiency and savings of energy - Dr. Erez Sverdlov
The Israeli R&D sector needs to identify, create and promote opportunities for realization of energy targets. These opportunities should be assessed in accordance with the chance of success in research and implementation of technologies at a commercial level, significant enough relative the investment of R&D funds.
In the energy sector, the Israeli market should orient itself in a balanced way, according to four categories:
Monetary expenditure- national expenses on energy should be kept as low as possible.
Environmental and social damage- air pollution, greenhouse gasses and health risks should be minimized.
Land consumption- land consumption of conventional energy facilities plays a significant role in Israel, especially along the coast.
Security and strategic strength- Risks of war, strategic vulnerability, dependence on fuel import and supply problems.
A combined policy- legislation, economic incentives and education should be considered in order to encourage reduction in energy consumption. This should be achieved by means of physical planning of the market, using technologies for reducing consumption along with the alteration of behavior patterns.


Further recommendations raised by the Energy Forum participants:
In order to promote intensive R&D in energy conservation as well as in alternative energy technologies, the state of Israel should launch centers of excellence that each will focus on a different subject of innovation in the energy sector- for production, storage, transportation and energy saving, building technologies etc. Vital and sustainable technologies should be developed and cooperation between the excellence centers and the industrial sector should be maintained.


Alternative fuels and the transportation sector should be reviewed with a R&D emphasis. The transportation sector in Israel consumes 6,500 MW per year, almost as much as the electric companies production capacity. Areas of research are hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles, use of alternative fuels and hydrogen and so forth.


Further research targets identified by the participants:


  • Solar energy- Israel has a relative research advantage in this area and this advantage should be further developed.
  • Solar electrolysis for producing hydrogen and for solar desalination.
  • Israel has an advantage in developing technologies with little or no regard to local implementation: biomass, solar energy, wind energy (electronic and computerization advantage for developing operational and supervision systems), development of plant species for the bio-fuel industry.

Summary and Conclusions
There are many subjects in the alternative energy sector that can and should be promoted by Israeli research. Preferences for financing and incentives should follow a few principles-First of all key future markets should be targeted, be they local or global, thus enabling cooperation with foreign markets where possible.
Development of technologies and products that have to do with energy consumption for the transportation sector and for other sectors with electrical and thermal energy consumption needs, should be differentiated, as these sectors have different stand points that effect their requirements. While the transport sector aims at minimizing environmental impacts in parallel to maximization of efficiency in the use of various fuels, the use of energy for electricity or heat serves as an alternative to consuming fossil fuels.
Finally, consideration should be given to areas where Israel has an advantage in research such as the development of electronic and computerized systems for control and operation of various systems and facilities.
These are the criteria for reviewing and identifying areas for research that Israel should invest in their development: Sun (photovoltaic and thermal systems), wind (Israel can contribute electrical engineering and computerization skills), bio-fuels (agricultural and biological expertise), energy storage and elements for low or zero energy buildings.


Furthermore, it is clear that the Israeli government should designate and secure significant funds for research and development in the energy sector. Finance should be given for primary research as well, when risks are still high, so as to promote innovation. The policy of financing R&D must be clear and transparent, while integrating lessons learned from positive and negative achievements. Research finance must be guaranteed throughout longer periods of time to ensure that funds are not cut off in the midst of crucial research. The Forum recommends inaugurating a team in cooperation with the relevant governmental ministries, for promoting the energy sector and in order to design a strategic plan for the sector, similar to the "Agamim 10" plan for the water sector.

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