26 May 2011

Israeli water technology -- part 1

The Israel Export & International Cooperation Institute hosted me and 46 journalists from 38 countries.

Although I visited Israel in the 1990s, I learned quite a bit about their water technologies* on this trip:
  • Zenith Solar uses a focal-lens system to heat water AND generate electricity [PDF brochure]. Total sun to energy conversion is about 70% (!)

  • Mekorot (the national water carrier company) opened its facilities to 600 start-up projects, allowing small companies to try to improve operations. They ended up adopting 20 ideas (3%). Mekorot also shares its data on these operations "peer-to-peer" with foreign utilities considering buying the technology.

  • We toured the world famous (and briefly largest) Ashkelon RO-desalination plant. It produces 118 million m^3 of water a year, at a price of $0.53/m^3, delivered (that price includes CapEx, OpEx and profits). Key statistic: It takes 3.5 kWh to purify a m^3; power costs $0.06/kWh so energy costs $0.21 of that $0.53. Big surprise: They remove boron from the water to make it compatible with farming. Yes, Israeli farmers get more than half their water from treated wastewater (75% is treated and reused), but they also take desalinated water out of Merkot's network.

  • The managers at a plant handling wastewater from 2 million people tell people to dump used oil in their toilets -- rather than the ground or in the garbage -- since they can recover it at the plant. The mixture of recovered organic and mineral oils is used to make candles.

  • Farmers pay 1 NIS (about $0.30) for a cubic meter of wastewater ($350/af) that costs 3NIS to treat, settle/inject underground, and pump to their farms. That's not a 2NIS subsidy (because treatment is necessary), but an opportunity cost subsidy (the water could ALSO be sold to cities to reduce the need for desalinated water).

  • Israeli tap water is priced per capita (as I recommend). The price of household water is about 12 NIS/m^3 (about $9.50/ccf). That price will rise: Israel plans to get ALL of its household water from desalination by 2015; they are building three desalination plants that will be bigger than Ashkelon.**
* I offered to give a talk on the economics and politics of water management at their November Watec conference. Stay tuned.

** Oh crap. They are getting project financing from the European Investment Bank for one desalination plant. Ridiculous! (1) Israel is not in Europe! (2) There's no need to subsidize financing on a desalination plant!

Part 2 will cover drip irrigation, waste separation, smart meters, and water security. Yeah baby!