"Israel is the only arid country in the world that has solved its water scarcity problem," observes Oded Distel, Director of Israel's Investment Promotion Center and Israel NewTech at the Ministry of Economy. "But while better management, recycling, irrigation and especially desalination, which puts a price on water, have achieved this, it is also critical to have an appropriate water infrastructure. The problem worldwide is that water is seen as a natural resource and God's gift to mankind and thus free. So both authorities and consumers have no incentive to monitor and streamline the quantities of water they are using and this is a disastrous recipe for waste, shortfalls and pollution."
"Israel initially developed its innovative water technologies to make scarce resources go much further," he adds, "However, today it is not only arid countries like Israel that are concerned about protecting and preserving their precious water resources. Even countries like Canada and Norway understand that water systems consume enormous energy, while wastewater pollutes the environment. People understand that polluting water boomerangs on us. So we see a shift to high-tech in the world of water with smart systems replacing the 'stupid' systems that haven't changed very much since the 19th century."
Mr. Distel says that many Israeli companies offer proven technologies to cope with the range of water, environmental and energy problems confronting the world. Drip irrigation, for example, a flagship Israeli product is now being used worldwide, not only to save water but also to provide a more enlightened and reduced use of pesticides, which are poisoning groundwater from California to Calcutta and forcing the closure of wells.
Israel NewTech over which Mr. Distel presides is a national program aimed at promoting Israel’s water and sustainable energy sectors. The Israel NewTech program was launched in 2006, in the belief that the water and sustainable energy sectors have the potential to be strong growth industries for the country, and play an important role in meeting the world’s rising needs.
This pioneering national program is led by the Ministry of Economy (formerly the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor), and is supported by a number of additional government agencies. Israel NewTech helps to advance the water and sustainable energy sectors by supporting academia and research, encouraging implementation in the local market, and by helping Israeli companies succeed in the international arena.
Today it is not only arid countries like Israel that are concerned about protecting and preserving their precious water resources
Mr. Distel said, "One major area where Israeli companies have much to contribute is in bringing municipal water systems into the 21st century. From remote metering of water consumption to sensors that monitor sewage and wastewater flow to streamline cleaning procedures, Israeli companies have leading edge solutions to offer. Public pressure to protect the environment has started a process of changing traditional water and wastewater systems."
Not only is close to 80% of Israeli wastewater recycled and purified for agricultural use but the concept of seeing wastewater as a resource rather than a "waste" has seen Israeli companies develop methods for recycling other components of wastewater such as paper (from toilet paper) and fibers from washing machine waste. And of course there are organic materials in wastewater that can be used for energy through bioconversion.
Israel also leads in desalination with five desalination plants along the Mediterranean coast producing nearly 600 million cubic meters of water annually. "Desalination has resulted in two major processes. It means Israel's water supply is no longer dependent on natural rainfall. It also means that water becomes a commodity with a fixed price and this has led to economic independence with water free of government subsidies and valued as a commodity."
These are some of the achievements, which allow NewTech to promote Israel’s water technologies in both the local and global arenas, by supporting R&D efforts, partaking in relevant industry events and giving the sector the marketing tools which can serve it best. The Israeli government has allotted vast resources to the program as means of bolstering Israel’s water-tech cluster. The program encourages Israeli companies and individuals to enter and invest in the field, as well as form relations with potential overseas partners.
Israel also share its experience with other nations like China, India and other countries around the world to advise in implementation of comprehensive sustainable water infrastructure systems. A joint project between China and Israel is aiming to build a model water city in Shouguang, a city of 1.1 million in Shandong province. The city will upgrade its water infrastructure and performance based on proven and the most advanced technologies.
Mr. Distel stressed that industry as well as the public sector also uses vast amounts of water. He said, "The food and beverage industry, pharmaceuticals, mining, heavy metals, and oil and gas exploration as well as fracking for natural gas, to name just a few sectors, handle massive volumes of water and can save enormously on their water and related energy costs through efficient management of water resources, recycling and desalination."
Israel also has much to offer in renewable energy. "Notwithstanding Israel's major offshore natural gas discoveries, these are exhaustible and renewable energy from the sun, wind, bioconversion etc. is still the future."
Israel pioneered rooftop water solar energy heaters, which provide hot water for over 70% of the country's homes. More recently it has also led in rooftop panels, solar arrays, photovoltaic installations, energy storage and smart grids, and Israeli companies are also engaged in developing bioconversion and wind technology. The Israeli Prime Minister's office is also operating the National Program for the Development of Alternative Fuels in Transportation. The program seeks to reduce global dependence on oil for transportation by supporting R&D in energy storage, energy agriculture (such as biodiesel), and natural gas for transportation.
Mr. Distel said, "With dwindling resources and growing populations and standards of living, government and local authorities have to adopt new mindsets and attitudes and the bottom line is very clear. The business as usual scenario is not an option, and when this new concept is well accepted, there will be an ocean of opportunities for smart, efficient new technologies."