May 10th, 2013
12:28 PM ET

Green power for all

By Yosef Abramowitz, Special to CNN

The world, especially the developing world, has an acute need for food, water and energy. Israel happens to have terrific innovators in agriculture and in water technology, which, if exported, could provide food and water security to the over billion people who are vulnerable.

I’m a solar energy guy. Actually, I’m a trouble-maker, former anti-apartheid and human rights activist who stumbled into the solar world the second my family and I arrived to a remote desert kibbutz to begin a two-year escape-from-suburbia sabbatical.

Sometimes you get lucky, which is what I consider myself for having met at Kibbutz Ketura Ed Hofland and from New Jersey, David Rosenblatt. Together we formed the Arava Power Company and fought the good fight and eventually won the battle to bring commercial-scale solar power to the Jewish state. We also pioneered in Israel, thankfully with success, the concept of Impact Investing—doing good while doing well.

There are 1.6 billion people on the planet who do not have any electric power, despite the fact that the sun shines on them all. We learned some valuable lessons along the way in Israel that, with some luck and hard work, could be brought to Africa and elsewhere.

The UN Secretary General has launched a new initiative called “Sustainable Energy for All,” to provide green power to everyone by 2030. While we support this idea, I believe that we can supply green power to everyone by 2020. The 2030 goal is ambitious with a
world-view focused on raising non-profit, non-governmental funds, which are limited. I think the 2020 goal is ambitious and do-able, since we have developed a way to mobilize nearly unlimited for-profit funds to accomplish a similar goal but faster.

While solar energy is also a business I see it as a human rights campaign. The UN Declaration of Human Rights guarantees lots of things that poor people don’t have: education, health care, and jobs. None of this is really possible in a world without electricity. In the best of scenarios, however, when a poor country begins to provide power to its people, they are hooking up polluting and dirty diesel generators. So some of the poorest people are the planet, as they try to work their way out of poverty, end up becoming part of the climate change problem rather than part of the solution.

I want us all to be part of the solution to climate change and global warming, while also accelerating developing of poor countries. So we started a second company, Energiya Global Capital, to do just that.

While we can’t do it alone, we do want to supply green power to 50 million people by 2020, which is about 10,000 megawatts—about the size of Israel’s energy market. And to give investors the opportunity to invest according to their values while creating value in the developing world.

Time is against us.

For the planet to be in balance, we need carbon dioxide levels to be at 350 parts per million. Today, we are at 392 parts, and accelerating quickly. According to some estimates, by 2017 the planet must level off any growth in greenhouse gas emissions in order for radical climate change to not be irreversible.

Since 9 percent of the planet’s electricity is produced from burning diesel oil, we can do something historic by zeroing it out. Not only taking out the carbon footprint of that energy, but also cutting the cost of power in those markets. The price of solar panels has dropped so drastically in the nearly seven years that we have been working to bring solar power to Israel that our costs are sometimes about half the cost of diesel. And solar power has none of the volatility, pollution or money going to autocratic regimes that produce most of the world’s oil.

I think what we have learned in our struggle to bring solar power to Israel can now be applied worldwide. And not to do so would be selfish. Just like with agriculture and water, Israel, through our efforts, has something to contribute in the realm of green power for the people. When President Obama was in Jerusalem last month, he singled out Israeli innovation in the field of solar energy, with its potential to help the world.

This is our journey. We have succeeded in Israel to begin our solar revolution. We cannot afford to fail to spark a solar revolution in Africa and elsewhere.

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Filed under: Environment • Science • Social change • Tech • The Next List • Video
soundoff (7 Responses)
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    November 6, 2013 at 3:43 am | Reply
  3. Andy Morrow

    I would be interested to know what Yosef Abramowitz is doing about the apartheid in his own country and the horrendous power shortages on his doorstep faced by the Palestinian people?

    May 13, 2013 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  4. clark

    is it complex to derive

    May 12, 2013 at 2:08 am | Reply
  5. clark

    it is great idea can the poor afford it ?

    May 12, 2013 at 2:01 am | Reply
  6. Derick King

    While sitting in my office on Saturday May 11, the report on CNN, Green Power for all got my attention. I live in the Bahamas an independent country approximately 60 miles of the coast of Florida. Burning fossil fuel that is used to supply 99.5% of the energy needs is not helping the planet. In addition, the high cost of energy is the major reason for a lack of development in our country. Presently the cost is around 42 cents per kW. In view of the story on CNN the Next List, I would like to obtain additional information on how we can begin the process of implementing solar power throughout the Bahamas. Your assistance in contacting me is greatly appreciated.

    May 11, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  7. Nikki

    disclosure: One of my children studied at Arava. The fine people who teach and study there have my respect - and they come from many backgrounds. What they have in common is a practical sort of idealism which is still too rare

    May 15, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Reply

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