“We can’t become a Silicon Valley if we don’t have education and academia here,” says Hevel Eilot Regional Council Chairman Gat.

By initiating a bachelor’s degree in renewable energy at Ben-Gurion University’s Eilat campus, the region will really be able to stand out as the clean-tech center that it aims to be, according to Hevel Eilot Regional Council Chairman Udi Gat.

“We can’t become a Silicon Valley if we don’t have education and academia here, if we don’t have energy production, energy tests, labs, science and researchers,” Gat told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. “It’s all together.”

He was speaking on the sidelines of the Eilat-Eilot 2012 Fifth International Renewable Energy Conference and Exhibition, after both he and Eilat Mayor Meir Yizhak Halevi had addressed participants about the region’s developments and about the bachelor’s degree program under way.

The region, Gat explained, should be a beacon of alternative energy, and in order to accomplish this task, the “place must be known and recognized as high quality.”

Already, the Eilat campus of Ben-Gurion University has a program for marine biology, as well as several other degree tracks, but adding a bachelor’s in renewable energy will really help “turn this area into an academic region,” Halevi said during his speech.

The Eilat renewable energy undergraduate program, which is slated to begin in either 2013 or 2014, will be the first such degree in the Middle East, following only about two programs in Europe and a few others around the world, according to Gat. With a management focus rather than a scientific approach, the degree will contain courses on management, policy and specifics of renewable energy.

“The ones who finished the first degree go into marketing, regulations,” added Dorit Banet, co-chair of the conference.

The degree will be a stepping stone to bringing more skilled professionals into the Eilat-Eilot region, Gat stressed.

“I want you to realize how much education is important for me,” he said, noting that he just recently finished his master’s degree in education at Tel Aviv University.

“I believe that no region can increase, can be better without a good place for education, academia especially.”

And the perfect focus for this academic expansion is something that can provide a mode of branding for the region, according to Gat.

“That’s how we can bring more people to the region,” he said. “We will attract many students who believe this is the area that they want to build themselves in the future to work in.”

Not only will the renewable energy program attract students, it will also bring professors, families, skilled workers and high-quality individuals who will be either directly or indirectly connected to the university, he explained. Already there are professors interested in moving their careers to the Eilat campus, a move that will create a niche study opportunity in the region, he added.

For the future of the Eilat-Eilot area, it is crucial to encourage the region’s residents to add renewable energy to their Arava agricultural repertoire, something that will encourage young adults – like Gat’s own 23-year-old daughter – to stay in the region, he explained.

“She won’t come back to the region to work in date trees or peppers,” he said.

“But if I’d offer her education or science, maybe she would.”