Alternative energy or what is known as Cleantech is a hot field in technology right now. Cleantech includes all aspects of environmentally-friendly technology, from renewable and alternative energy to conservation and water, and has applications in both the industrial and consumer domains. Israel is a leader in Cleantech. According to a recent report in the Cleantech Group and the WWF, Israel is the second most innovative country worldwide for Cleantech, and the world looks to Israel as an important resource.

The Israeli Public Utility Authority (PUA), as well as other various ministries, is in charge of implementing governmental policies. The government has supported R&D in the Cleantech field via its incubators as well as an increase in research budgets. The Office of Chief Scientists (OCS) of the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor is responsible for implementing governmental policy of supporting industrial research in development in Israel. The OCS has supported about 1000 projects undertaken by 500 companies, which have helped make Israel a center for hi-tech entrepreneurship.

There has been a substantial change in the scope of activity and investment in Cleantech R&D in Israel over the past few years. In 2007, applications received in the OCS for research projects in the Cleantech sector were worth a total of 150 million NIS. By 2010, the amount had jumped to 380 million NIS, representing a rise of more than 250% in 3 years. The number of grants and applications approved has grown by similar rates. However, Cleantech still accounts for only a small proportion of the total R&D projects approved by the OCS, which total about 5 billion NIS annually.

In order to increase the R&D in Cleantech, the government is also working with the Renewable Energy Technology Center, which will be set up by a private consortium selected by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry.

A second center is planned for developing water technologies. Water technology has included the prevention of leaks from water pipes. This is relevant particularly in older cities, such as London and Paris, which have an antiquated water infrastructure. Israeli technology is two-pronged: locating the leak using sophisticated control systems and then blocking the leak by introducing special, nontoxic material. Israel has also been a pioneer in water desalinization technologies  that have been exported to other countries that are facing water shortages.

One innovation in Israel’s water technology that has attracted international attention is  Israel’s work in the Arava Desert. Utilizing desalination technology and solar energy, 60% of Israel’s vegetable exports are grown in this region.

In 2010-2011, the State of Israel was the chairman of Eureka, an international organization of 39 countries that promotes international market-oriented research and innovation through their support of large industry, smaller enterprise, and research institutes. During this period, Israel focused on clean technology development and launched Eureka Clean-Tech Action, which encouraged R&D cooperation in the cleantech field.

Eureka members were invited to  the annual conference  run by the Israeli Energy Initiative Project, Eilat-Eilot, which is recognized as one of the most important renewable energy events in the world by the European Commission. It brings together more than 2000 Israeli and international business people, academics, government reps and large investment entities. Eilat-Eilot includes some of Israel’s most important companies in R&D: Ormat, Elbit, Rafael , ProSeed and research bodies in renewable energy such as BGU and the Arava Institute for Environment Studies.

Recently, the Israeli government awarded the tender for the Renewable Energy Technology Center to the Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative. The center will receive 57 million NIS over the next 5 years.

In addition to Eureka, Israel has collaborated with many cleantech R&D efforts in other countries. For example, the Israel-US Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) provides matchmaking services between Israel and the US as well as funds up to 50% towards production costs. Israel also has R&D partnership programs with Canada, Singapore, Britain, Korea, and more. Many other countries, such as China, Holland, Germany, and Belgium enable Israeli scientists to access sources of national funding.

In the coming years, Israel’s R&D efforts will be devoted to substitutes for oil, particularly for transport. The main goal is for Israel to become a world center of know-how in energy alternatives. At least 14 billion NIS will be devoted to this initiative over the next ten years. The goal is to engage more than 100 start-ups and research projects in Israel and abroad by 2016. A 1.5 million NIS annual prize will be awarded by the PM for world innovation in alternatives to oil. More about Israel’s Cleantech industry can be read here.

The IFC, the World Bank Group’s is looking to invest $150 million in high growth and innovative companies which are commercializing new technologies. Israel, according to the IFC, is a perfect place to locate and fund such initiatives. The most appealing arenas of cleantech in Israel for the IFC’s program are agricultural technology, water and water treatment, and energy efficiency.

Cleantech companies in Israel:

Additional information is available at:

Interview
A special thanks to Ophir Chernin for participating in this interview. Ophir is a mechanical engineer by training who is currently working in R&D in the field of solar thermal energy at BrightSource Industries Israel.

Can you describe the field of Cleantech for those who are unfamiliar with it?
Cleantech is a hot field in technology right now. Cleantech includes all aspects of environmentally-friendly technology, from renewable energy to conservation, and has applications in both the industrial and consumer domains. The company I work at, BrightSource Industries Israel (BSII), deals with renewable energy. We work with solar thermal energy, which means that we use the sun’s energy to heat water, produce steam, and run a turbine to produce electricity. This is in contrast to photovolatics, which converts solar energy directly into electricity. BSII’s technology is targeted at utility-scale power stations of 100MW or larger.

What is the market like?
Cleantech is a field with many start-ups as well as more established companies. It’s very crowded at the moment, even though it’s not as inflated as the .com bubble once was. While there are a lot of start-ups, there are also a lot of shutdowns, so things in the industry are changing all the time. Cleantech is still a young industry, but it’s on track to continue growing.

One example in the Cleantech industry is BrightSource. BrightSource has been progressing well since its establishment at the end of 2006 when a group of 30 experienced engineers of the first Luz re-gathered to form BrightSource. We have now grown to more than 160 employees. I think the unique combination of investing in young talent and the experience of the old Luz team is an important factor in BrightSource’s steady progress in the Cleantech industry.

What types of backgrounds are relevant for someone looking to break into the Cleantech industry?
Someone looking to go into the Cleantech business should have a solid educational background. Universities are beginning to establish programs in areas such as renewable energy and environmental engineering, and these could be promising tracks for a future Cleantech professional. Whatever you choose to study, make sure you know the basics of your field well enough to become an expert in what you do. If you want to be an engineer in Cleantech, study as much as you can about the basics of engineering. If you want to market Cleantech technology, learn all you can about marketing. Like the high-tech field in general, there are opportunities for qualified professionals coming from all types of backgrounds.

What education and experience should an Oleh looking to go into Cleantech come with?
You can come to the Cleantech industry from any kind of professional background, as long as you’ve worked at a place where you’ve developed your skills and obtained experience in your technical field. In a Cleantech startup, experience and knowledge are really the most important factors. Whereas in America you need a Master’s degree to move up, your professional standing in Israel is based on what you know and what you can do. Of course it’s recommended to get a Masters, but it’s not as important as it is in America.

If you’ve just earned your degree in America and are planning to make Aliyah and find work in Cleantech, I really urge you to wait and come with work experience of at least five years. I think an American just out of college would have a tough time finding a job here with no prior experience. If you have a solid background before making Aliyah, you’ll be more marketable and find that more options are open to you.

What is the best way to find a job in Cleantech?
Definitely use networking – it’s better than any agency. The manpower agencies are also an important tool in getting your resume to as many relevant companies as possible.

How important is Hebrew?
I think that anyone who works in an Israeli company should be fluent in Hebrew, even though it’s often not necessary for the work itself but rather to communicate with colleagues and clients.

Are there any upcoming areas of specialty you would recommend?
Be the best you can be at the basics. Don’t try to specialize in something that doesn’t exist. Instead, know the basic sciences, such as physics, chemistry and biology, or study the classical engineering fields such as mechanical, chemical, bio, or software. You can go into any field with that. The market is crowded and young, so there are always trends and start-ups coming and going quickly. However, a lot is going on right now in solar thermal and in photovolatics.

Are there any technical differences to be aware of between the industry in Israel and the US?
Israel is an incubator for a lot of technologies– most Israeli technologies are exported to the US and Europe instead of being implemented here due to several factors. The Israeli market is small, and Israel, in general, isn’t a manufacturing center. Both the European and the US markets have a demand for Cleantech because it is supported by their legislation. However, it seems like the implementation of Cleantech in Israel is beginning to pick up.

Are there any professional organizations?
There are many professional organizations for each field in engineering and the sciences, and most of them have divisions that deal with Cleantech specifically. There is also the Solar Energy Society (SES) that promotes solar energy use. The Israeli branch of the SES is the Israeli Sustainable Energy Society (ISES).

Is there anything else you would like to share with new Olim?
I would recommend that your first job is with a bigger, established company, instead of a start-up. It’s important for a young person to learn the proper way of working and to work with established rules and procedures. If you don’t learn that early on, it’s hard to learn later. It is much more common to find a mentoring system at an established company; an excellent mentor is probably the best asset a young engineer can have. If you then move to a start-up, you can bring that experience and that method of working with you, and it will give you added value. Working at a large company also allows you to network with your co-workers and to learn what they have learned through their experience. Then, you’ll have more than just your knowledge — you’ll have the accumulated knowledge of the entire company.

Also, remember: Don’t jump the gun – have realistic expectations! If you have a good knowledge base, you’ll do well here.