1 Jun 2011

Israeli water technology -- part 2

Part 1 is here.
Water scarcity? Not here! (Tel Aviv)

Netafim drippers
Drip irrigation was "discovered" in the 1950s on an Israeli kibbutz, when a farmer noticed a very healthy tree. Digging into the root causes (pun! pun!), he found a leaking pipe. Decades later, Netafim is the world leader in drip irrigation. We had tour of their factory, which is based on high-technology (you should see THESE drippers) and low costs.

Netafim's execs were slightly-embarrassed to note that their most enthusiastic customers were NOT poor farmers in water-scarce areas, but wine growers who wanted precision technologies to deliver water, fertilizers and other grape-enhancing substances.

Sorting waste with water
We also saw an amazing waste-sorting facility (run by Arrowecology) that separated plastics, metals and organics using water (!). Plastics floated, metals sank and organics were suspended in the water, which was then directed to digesters that took out methane and produced a "dry sludge" that could be used as fertilizer. Neat.

Whitewater Security turned me off with their American-style terror talk, but they had an interesting, real-time sensing technology for water quality (according to my notes, they won a contract to install 20 sensors in Akron, Ohio's, system -- at a cost of $3.5 million).

Miltel seemed to be a typical smart meter vendor. Their system for 25,000 meters cost $1 million to install and $50,000 per year to operate.

CO2 to algae
We also saw a neat process for converting CO2 into algae, as a means of reducing CO2 emissions. unfortunately, the technology is about 100 times too expensive.

I told many people that demand for technology could be artificially increased or reduced by policies that distorted incentives. I can see how changes in policies might put these firms out of business. For example, Israel is increasing tipping fees to increase recycling rates (based on OECD targets) even though it has adequate space for landfill.

As usual, I propose getting policies right first, and THEN looking for technology solutions.