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Israel becomes oasis of eco-tourism options

This article was published by the Xinhua Official News Agency of China English edition and re-printed in the China Daily and other Chinese news publications:

by Zhang Yanyang

JERUSALEM, Aug. 10 (Xinhua) — Israel’s leading position in the field of clean-tech innovation has boosted eco-tourism initiatives locally, and entrepreneurs believe there are endless opportunities to blend clean-tech and tourism in the Holy Land.

“There are many unique and exciting eco-initiatives in Israel, you can’t help but include that element in any visit to this small country,” Jared Goldfarb, an Israeli tour guide, told Xinhua.

He added that much of the Jewish state’s attraction as a tourism destination is based on the land itself and by extension easily related to the environmental challenges which stimulated the development of clean-tech industries in Israel.

“The clean-tech that Israel embarks on is not just because we are highly technologically developed, but rather because we are dealing with urgent issues that have to do with the climate and environment we live in,” Goldfarb said.

Faced with an arid climate, few fossil fuels, limited land resources and droughts, it was only natural for Israel to become a pioneer in the development of water conservation technologies, alternative energy options, smart grid applications, and oil alternatives.

GREEN ENERGY

As necessity is the mother of invention, researchers in both the private and academic sectors have been instrumental in the development of renewable energy innovations and water technologies.

Given the abundance of sunlight in Israel, solar energy was one of the first alternative energy sources Israeli researchers focused on. The country has been the world leader in the use of solar energy per capita with 85 percent of households using solar thermal systems, the highest per capita use of solar energy in the world.

In water technologies as well, Israel has been a world leader reclaiming almost 75 percent of its reused effluents in agriculture. Drip irrigation, another Israeli invention, exceeds about 90 percent of water efficiency and represents a 30 to 50 percent savings on water used for irrigation.

Israel’s desalination plants, among the biggest in the world, already supply more than 300 million cubic meters (mcm) of water per year, and are set to supply 750 mcm annually by 2020, covering the Jewish state’s total current household water consumption.

There are currently three desalination plants in operation in Israel. A plant at Palmahim that produces 45 mcm annually, a plant at Ashkelon producing 110 mcm and a plant in Hadera that produces 127 mcm annually.

POTENTIAL FOR TOURISM

“With the growth of Chinese tourism to Israel, there exists a potential for them to explore Israel’s great nature sites and its leadership in environmental innovation,” said Gidon Melmed, an Israeli entrepreneur specializing in sustainable development.

“You can take people to Zenith Solar, which has a solar field on kibbutz Yavneh, near the southern city of Ashdod, or to Better Place, which is building a smart grid for electric cars and is great for giving people an experiential insight into environmental solutions being implemented in Israel,” Melmed said.

Zenith Solar, a company that develops plants using high- concentrated photovoltaics, says that its technology harvests more than 70 percent of incoming solar energy, compared with industry averages of 10 percent to 40 percent.

Melmed noted that the Shafdan, the largest and most advanced reclamation plant of its sort in the Middle East with a capacity to treat 330 cubic meters of waste a day, is also a popular spot for tours.

Jonathan Neril, the director of Eco Israel Tours, a company that focuses on Israel’s nature and culture of innovation, said he saw tremendous potential in expanding the industry for eco-tourism further.

“Despite its challenges, Israel is a global leader in green solutions to environmental problems,” Neril said, “there is tremendous potential for tours that offer an interactive, dynamic experience of this exciting world within Israel by exploring its solutions to contemporary global challenges and issues such as water and energy.”

As the Israeli government has set a target of generating a tenth of Israel’s electricity production by 2020 from renewable energy sources, up from less than half a percent at present, industry experts expect a boom in clean-tech initiatives.

LONG WAY TO GO

But some in the tourism industry cautioned that there was still a long way to go before tourists could gain a full perspective of Israel’s advances in clean-tech.

“Though there are many clean-tech industries in Israel, they still need to learn how to make themselves more accessible to tourists,” Goldfarb said. “It is hard to deal with the bureaucracy, ” he added, noting that he had spent a good week trying to get permission for a group he was leading to visit a solar project in the desert.

He added that any real clean-tech tour should also reexamine traditional tourism and look for ways to green the sites that everyone goes to.

“It is a shame that when you go to a traditional spot like Masada, which features the remains of an intricate 2,000 year old water supply system, or the Kinneret, Israel’s largest and most important source and reservoir of drinking water, there isn’t a single place to recycle the bottles you take with you,” Goldfarb said.

“If every tour company, rather than supplying their customers with a bottle of mineral water, were to give them a reusable bottle and instruct them to refill it every day that would instantaneously green our tourism industry,” he added.

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/indepth/2011-08/11/c_131041593.htm