Carmel Tunnel in Haifa (Courtesy of Schneider Electric)
The new Carmel Tunnel in Haifa. Photo by Courtesy of Schneider Electric
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Courtesy of Schneider Electric
A solar power installation in Moratalla, Spain Photo by Courtesy of Schneider Electric
Liz Steinberg
Marc Coroler, left, and Philippe Brami Photo by Liz Steinberg

Israel may suffer from energy insecurity, but the country's outlook is bright, because electricity is going high-tech. That's a strong statement given that the country imports most of its energy sources and is expecting power shortages by 2013, but that's the opinion of Marc Coroler, senior vice president for central and eastern Europe at Schneider Electric, a major international energy management company based in Rueil-Malmaison, France.

Coroler was in Israel last week to meet with customers and government officials, and to see how Schneider's energy efficiency project is progressing. He and Schneider Electric Israel President Philippe Brami met with TheMarker fresh from a visit to the National Infrastructure Ministry, where officials had described Israel's energy goals for 2020: reducing energy consumption by 20% and making 10% of power production green.

These concrete goals make Israel unique in the global scene, according to Coroler.

"This is something that we don't see as much in other countries," he said - and more to the point, he believes they are realistic.

Many European countries have renewable energy on their agenda. But the same can't be said for energy-efficiency measures designed to reduce consumption. Plus, Israel's quantifiable goals are an advantage.

"These are very clear guidelines," Coroler explained. In other words, it makes the plans more likely to happen.

Clearly, good intentions won't keep the lights on - this country is littered with plans that never got off the ground. Last July, National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau published a plan that named these very goals, with concrete measures such as replacing old household appliances and making private and public sector offices use less power on lighting and air conditioning. Only recently did the plan receive Finance Ministry approval for a budget.

Despite this, the fact that the government has made conserving and going green into stated goals is a good start, said Coroler.

"This is certainly something that will change a lot the way people look at, manage their energy," he said. "When you have a strong push coming from the government, which is the case here, plus the private actors who consider this something that they need to do, you have a good cocktail for a lot of changes."

Brami added, "If the government is stubborn, at the end of the day that will happen. That is why we're optimistic."

Turn off the lights

The growing interest in reducing electricity usage is good news for the company, which develops systems designed to do just that. Coroler, 43, has been with Schneider Electric since 1990, pretty much his entire working life. He started as a sales engineer in France, and later moved on to positions across central and eastern Europe. Now, as part of his current post, he visits Israel at least once a year.

Schneider Electric was founded in France in 1836. More than 160 years later, it has more than 100,000 employees in more than 100 countries, and had 15.8 billion euros in global sales in 2009.

The company's underlying philosophy is that using power more efficiently is cheaper and more practical than building green energy systems. The group works in energy management, which includes installing monitoring systems from the power plant down to private homes, so that corporations and individuals can understand how they use electricity.

This is the key to knowing how and where to economize on power use, said Coroler.

Its main customers are power plants and businesses, but the company has systems for private homes.

"In most countries, customers come to us after looking at their energy bills," said Coroler.

To explain what energy management means, Coroler cited the Herzliya hotel where the interview took place as an example.

"In a hotel like here, you have two ways [to approach the matter]. They pay a lot for energy. At the same time, electricity is also comfort," he said. An energy management system could detect whether anyone is in the room, and turn lights on and off accordingly, for example, which would achieve two goals: It would save energy by turning off lights when they're not needed, and increase personal comfort by automatically turning lights on when they are needed.

Plus, the technology for these kinds of systems already exists, he said.

While building new, greener production measures can take 15 years, reducing consumption can happen immediately, the executives said.

"This is the quickest return on investment you can have," said Coroler. By becoming more efficient, "you can cut your energy consumption by 30% today, and the return on investment will be three years."

The trick: Turning the light back on cleverly

Part of Uzi Landau's plan had been to replace wasteful old appliances such as air conditioners and refrigerators with efficient new ones. Brami and Coroler said they agree these measures are important - appliances and light bulbs are the biggest home energy consumers - but true efficiency goes further.

"We know how to do that, but everyone knows how to do that. But once we finish fixing the basics ... we have to put in place processes to ensure that the bulb [turns on] when it has to," said Brami.

Conservation begins with understanding your consumption, the two executives explained.

"If you don't get on a scale, you can't know how much [weight] you've lost or need to lose," Brami said.

Schneider has been in Israel for more than 25 years, and has worked with the Israel Electric Corporation for the past decade. It is a key supplier of monitoring systems to the utility, said Brami. Other Israel Electric suppliers include AFCON and Veolia subsidiary Dalkia.

Schneider's other local customers include the Israel Aerospace Industries, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Oil Refineries, Dead Sea Works, Makhteshim Agan Industries, the Israel Airports Authority and the Israel Ports Authority. It also installed a system to identify short-circuits in the high-tension wires in the new Carmel tunnel, in partnership with the El-Mor Group.

Schneider is currently installing electricity monitoring systems for the power utility and for Israel Aerospace Industries.

"This is a new trend in the market in Israel," said Brami.

Another trend they predict will become big quickly in Israel is green energy.

The state has made it a goal of having 10% of energy come from renewable sources by 2020, but currently the figure is less than 0.5%, TheMarker reported last month. However, Coroler predicted that solar energy, Israel's great bright hope, would expand quickly - possibly even within months.

"When you look at the solar business ... you must have a legal framework given by the government with stability," he said. These include plans for investment, prices for generated electricity. "Then you must have actors on the market," he said, including land and projects. "We see that this cocktail is ready in this country."

Last month, for instance, the cabinet approved a new national master plan for solar-powered facilities.

Natural gas could also play an important role in Israel's future, particularly in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While gas is not a source of renewable energy, it is considered cleaner than fossil fuels, and over the past two years, Israel discovered large reserves under its coastal waters under the Mediterranean seabed.

This discovery may ease Israel's transition to electric cars, Coroler suggested. (For more on what electric cars mean for our electricity network, see box. ) Countries heavily dependent on fossil fuels are more hesitant to bring in electric cars because these vehicles significantly increase electricity consumption, and if electricity production creates a lot of pollution, this transition may not be beneficial.

It's very important to have green sources of energy, and it's very important to have a grid that will manage that extra load imposed by electric cars, he explained.

Building a smarter grid

So, what does the future hold for this small country that imports its energy and whose government predicts a shortage within two years?

In the short term, such as the next year, Israel should focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, said Coroler.

What of the long term?

"In the next five to 10 years, what's important is the grid. To make it smarter," he said. With the advent of electric cars, the electricity grid will need to be increasingly flexible - an electric car uses as much power as an entire household, but it gets charged in a few hours, not over the course of 24 hours. Plus, consumers will want to charge their cars on the go.

"You will have your electrical car that you will want to recharge whenever. It will be the first mobile electrical load ever invented ... it will be very complicated for the grid," he said.

Another issue will be posed by solar power. Once more homes have their own solar panels, the grid will have to know how to take in electricity, not just distribute it.

"You will generate energy on the roof of your home. The grid will have to understand that," he said. This, too, will be good for Schneider, which develops converters that turn sunlight into usable electricity; the company was one of the first manufacturers that the Israel Electric Corporation approved to service large solar power systems in Israel, said Brami.

So how is all this good for Israel? Well, because it's high-tech - the emphasis will be switching from hardware to software.

Within five years, people will be monitoring their home's electricity usage via their computers and iPhones, Brami predicted.

In fact, an initiative to make these systems easy-to-use and accessible is underway in the European Union, and Schneider is part of a team of companies developing a smart home system called HOMES.

"As soon as you deal with new technology plus software, it's a good combination for Israel," said Coroler.