Solar-Powered Water Heaters in Israel
On its face, the initiative may not appear to be all that important, but the Israeli people have taken advantage of their geographic location to significantly decrease their dependence on foreign imported energy and increase their self-sufficiency by installing solar-powered water heaters on residential rooftops across the country. For instance, according to Sandler, “Rooftops all over Israel look strikingly similar: More than 1 million households in the nation of 7.1 million people have solar panels that produce hot water — a relatively simple technology that gained popularity after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, when oil prices shot up sharply” (2). The ubiquity of these rooftop solar-powered water heaters is readily discernible in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1. Rooftop solar-powered water heaters in Tel Aviv
The impetus for this initiative gained momentum in the early 1990s when the Israeli government mandated that all new residential buildings must install solar water-heating systems (Sandler), and for good reason. According to Hamer, “Solar energy is especially well suited for heating water, a task that requires 15 — 20% of a home’s total energy consumption. Solar water heaters can provide 50 — 90% of that hot water, and their original cost can be recovered through energy bill savings over the course of 4 — 7 years” (145). From a strictly pragmatic perspective, this initiative is also making a significant difference in the energy-dependency of Israel. In this regard, Hamer adds that, “The potential value of the technology is shown in Israel, where solar hot water heaters displace 6% of the country’s total electricity consumption” (146). By using improved solar power technologies, that percentage could increase to as much as 16% a major factor for Israelis given that the nation is almost entirely dependent on imported energy sources (Sandler). Beyond the energy savings realized by solar-powered hot water tanks, there are some other benefits to using solar energy in Israel. For instance, Abramowitz and Lehreer emphasize that, “Israel’s heavy reliance on imported, carbon-based fuels is bad for the environment and for public health. Fortunately, Israel is blessed with enough sunshine: Solar power alone could fuel up to 40% (8 gigawatts) of Israel’s anticipated electricity needs by 2020” (2). This point is also made by Katsioloudis, Bondi and Deal who emphasize, “In countries like Israel, the abundance of solar radiation, together with a good technological base, has created favorable conditions for the exploitation of solar energy” (11).
Despite their ubiquity, the solar-powered water heaters are typically mounted on residential and commercial rooftops, both for aesthetic reasons as well as practical ones. According to Stroud, “A roof can be a very easy place to hide a solar system” (35). Although there are other solar-powered projects underway across the country with the same goal of reducing Israel’s dependence on foreign-imported energy sources, these rooftop units remain the most common. For example, Faiman reports that, “Perhaps the most common manifestation of putting the sun to work in Israel are the solar water heaters that cover roof-tops all over the country. Typical domestic units consist of a 150 liter insulated storage tank and a 2 sq.m. flat panel” (3). The units used for most residential applications are highly efficient, and operate using a gravity-driven loop that does not require a water pump; however, the solar-powered water heaters used for larger high-rise housing projects and in a number of kibbutzim are typically pump-driven (Faiman). The typical solar panel and water heating configuration of the residential units used throughout Israel is illustrated in Figure 2 below.
Figure 2. Rooftop-mounted solar-powered water heaters in Tel Aviv
The solar-powered water heater initiative also helps to promote a sense of community and self-reliance that transcend its immediate energy-saving effects. According to one authority, “These heaters were first installed when the country experienced a fuel supply crisis in the early 1950s. The government responded by severely restricting the times when water could be heated. Israelis in turn responded by purchasing huge quantities of solar water heaters” (90% of Israeli homes have solar water heaters 3).
Abramowitz, Yosef I. And David Lehreer. 2008, October 31. “The solar vote.” Haaretz.com.
[online] available: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/the-solar-vote-
Faimer, David. 2010. “Solar Energy in Israel.” Jewish Virtual Library. [online] available:
Hamer, Glenn. 2002, June. “Solar Power 2002.” World and I 17(6): 145.
Katsioloudis, Petros J., Stella Bondi and Walter F. Deal. 2009. “Energy from the Skies:
Empowering Future Generations From the Beginning of Civilization, Humans Have Been
Experimenting with the Power of the Sun.” The Technology Teacher 68(6): 11-12.
“90% of Israeli Homes Have Solar Water Heaters.” 2008. MetaEfficient.com. [online] available:
Sandler, Neal. 2008, March 26. “At the Zenith of Solar Energy.” BusinessWeek. [online]
Stroud, Sara. 2010. “Feeling the Heat: Under Pressure to Cut Energy Costs, Administrators Will
Find Solar Power a Less Expensive and More Efficient Option than Ever.” the
Journal 37(4): 35-36.
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