Kibbutz Installs Solar Heaters

Adir Tiar and his team just finished installing solar-heated water tanks for all members of Kibbutz Shamir a week ago. But yesterday, they were back at the kibbutz, explaining how to get through the cloudy days.

"People here have heated their water with steam for years, and suddenly they all went solar," Tiar said. "When it's overcast, some don't understand why they can't get hot water."

"Now that the installation is complete, my job comes down to listening," he added.

The installation of the tanks marks the belated end of the age of steam for the kibbutz. "We've been heating water here with oil for 40 years," said Eyal Miron, who headed the kibbutz's "energy task force."

But a group of environmentally aware members, a kind of local green lobby, protested against the excessive pollution caused by the oil-burning steam generators.

"There were also financial considerations involved - such as the price of maintaining the steam pipes," said Uzi Tzur, a member of the kibbutz management. "When we looked at the alternatives, we found that solar-heated water tanks were the best option."

The cost of the project, estimated by Tzur to be over NIS 1 million, was fully paid by the kibbutz.

During meetings on changing the kibbutz's heating system, the members watched "The Age of Stupid," a film narrating the story of a man living in the devastated world of 2055 and wondering why climate change was not stopped in time.

Miron believes the new system will lead to people saving water. "With the steam system, you had unlimited hot water - which cost a lot of money," he said. "Now, with the solar tanks, the hot water eventually runs out, so people will have to be more economical."

The next step, he said, is "to install solar panels in the kibbutz laundry room and kitchen, to heat the water with sun rather than gas. We'll save both money and environmental damage."

The kibbutz movement is encouraging members to set up solar farms, and recently announced that its foundation for guaranteeing loans will provide guarantees to kibbutzim seeking credit to construct solar power plants.

Moshe Shalit, who heads the Upper Galilee Regional Council's environment department, sees the kibbutz as an example of a wider process of change.

"Shamir, as part of the Upper Galilee's green community forum, also replaced its asbestos roofs, added recycling facilities and is actively sorting its waste, alongside changing its water heating system," he said.

"Generally speaking, the council is one of the leaders in the field, and promotes several programs for using alternative energy, including producing electricity from water and gas and preserving the landscapes of the Hula Valley."