By SHARON UDASIN 02/26/2012 01:43
Ministry hoping to improve public attitude toward energy efficiency and integrate smart grids that monitor electricity usage in homes.
Electric lines [illustrative photo] By Thinkstock/Imagebank
If the nation’s largest industries and institutions can decrease their energy usage by 10 percent, Israel might be able to avoid the energy crisis and blackouts expected to occur this summer, Energy and Water Ministry representatives told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

The officials were speaking to the Post on the sidelines of the Eilat-Eilot Forum on Renewable Energy Policy, a prequel to the larger annual Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Conference that will occur this year in November.

During a series of workshops the day before, the ministry’s chief of staff, Smadar Bat- Adam, led one of the groups in devising strategies on energy efficiency and integrating smart grids that monitor electricity usage into homes.

“I challenge the industry and big institutions to try and do whatever they can to decrease their use of energy of electricity by 10%,” Bat-Adam told the Post, noting that industrial usages account for 25% of Israel’s energy consumption.

“If they will reach this target, we might not have the crisis that we expect for the summer.”

If drastic efforts such as this do not occur, the country will continue facing a “big problem,” she explained.

In order to really achieve long-term energy efficiency, however, Bat-Adam said that the entire public attitude must change – a task that is not easy.

“People are stuck in a state of mind,” she said, noting that members of the public need to realize that they can save – and even earn – money through conservation.

In its offices in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, for example, the ministry invested NIS 100,000 in installing lights that sense motion and shut off automatically when a room is empty. Thus far, the ministry has been saving NIS 17,000 every quarter, and has now begun to earn a profit, she explained.

“Concerning energy efficiency, we know that we need to change this way of thinking,” Bat-Adam said. “We need to give the public more information and we need to give incentives to the people.”

One such incentive the ministry is currently providing includes subsidized refrigerator and air-conditioner replacements as well as fluorescent lightbulbs at steep discounts. In response, stores that sell fluorescent lightbulbs other than the subsidized packages have now actually starting reducing their bulb prices in order to keep up with the competition, according to Chen Ben-Lulu, the media adviser to the minister.

“Once everyone in the market heard that our ministry was going into this deal and bringing 1.5 million lightbulbs into the market, that influenced everyone else to lower their prices,” he said.

Another innovation that will eventually provide for more energy efficiency will be smart grids, electronic monitoring boards in both institutions and people’s homes that will allow customers to see how much energy they are consuming and how much they are spending, according to Bat-Adam. However, many Israelis are somewhat hesitant to have these in their homes, as it will be another “Big Brother” type of element watching over them, she explained.

“The smart grid is kind of another Big Brother than can watch your habits at your home and not only watch but also interfere by decreasing some of your usages,” she said.

The Israel Electric Corporation and the ministry are now conducting a pilot program with smart grids for 3,000 customers in Binyamina, and Bat- Adam said she hopes the systems will be ready and affordable enough to install in the general public’s homes in four to five years.

Technically, she explained, the smart grid could automatically adjust the temperature in your home, for example. But Bat-Adam said that she envisions smart grids operating more through the customer’s control, rather than through pure automation.

“We wanted to put the customer in the center,” she said.

“So when you have this board that lets you know every hour if you use your dishwasher now it would cost you NIS 8, but if you do it later it might cost you NIS 4, it would be like shopping – you can decide. This might help you change your habits.”

“We are talking about turning the Big Brother into a big family – a sharing relationship,” she added.