Slow and Steady Wins the Green-energy Race

How is it that in 2012 we have managed to reach the moon, and even Mars, but still haven't succeeded in passing a law for renewable energy?

Elie Cohen
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Elie Cohen

The dismissal of former CEO Shai Agassi from the Israeli electric car company Better Place left a trail of questions, speculations and gloating in its wake. There were a few, like myself, who were filled with deep disappointment at this pattern of very Israeli behavior.

People say that Israelis have zero patience for failure, and that in many cases it costs them dearly. In the case of the Agassi/Better Place affair, there is every reason to believe that Agassi wasn't dismissed for a mistake he made or the vision he offered, but rather because of a lack of patience and restraint on the part of his bosses. It was an unwillingness on the part of company owners to wait for work to bear fruit, to hold their breath before the cash started rolling in.

As history shows, sustainable visions can take time. Green building, for example, existed in prehistoric times; it saves energy and makes us healthier. It also pays off. So how is it that in 2012 we have managed to reach the moon, and even Mars, but still haven't succeeded in passing a law in Israel that would resolve the matter?

Even the field of renewable energy isn't faring any better, and we've had the ability to generate electricity from renewable, non-polluting energy sources for a long time. Techniques for generating biomass electricity from solar and wind energy have been known to us for many years, and yet, in Israel less than 3 percent of energy is created from renewable sources.

Despite all of mankind's proud advances, the world of energy is still largely driven by polluting fossil fuels such as diesel, oil and coal and ruled by fears of rising oil prices. Agassi had a vision to wean the world off its dependency on oil and other pollutants. It was a vision that was based upon facts and figures, a realistic and practical vision like no other. Agassi's vision didn't rely upon the next invention or any futuristic developments. He had a plan to conquer the world with his passion, to implement his goals. He knew that the time to start is now, that this is what we have, and, that with it, we can emerge victorious. Agassi swept up everyone with his mighty charisma.

Maybe there's the rub.

Agassi was so convincing, he made us all sure that the solution was just around the corner. But as everyone who really believes in the vision of sustainability knows, real green change takes time. Today, after the first steps taken by Better Place in the world market, the picture may look more gray than green. But don't be blinded by this illusion. The vision that inspired Better Place will still go down in history as one that weaned humanity off its unremitting dependence on oil and the Arab world. Better Place's vision is the future of the global automotive industry and the hope for a future where a superior environmental vision is realized, even if it is ultimately implemented by a competing company.

We have every reason to believe that within our lifetimes we will get to see electric cars filling the streets of Israel and charging stations replacing the old gas stations. Even those who chose the easy way and ousted Agassi from his role because of teething problems or budget reports that were lower than expected will eventually realize that when it comes to a sustainable vision, patience is the name of the game.

The writer is the CEO of Termokir, and head of the department for green building at the Manufacturers' Association of Israel.

Shai Agassi with one of his Better Place cars in January 2012.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

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