A new wind blows between Israelis and Palestinians
By Karin Kloosterman, Israel 21C
June 28, 2010
Despite the latest tensions, two companies – one Palestinian and one Israeli – are integrating wind turbines together in the West Bank and beyond.
A bridge of peace: The team from Israel Wind Power and Brothers Engineering Group.
A path toward peace may be blowing in the wind, if a new wind energy project between a Palestinian and an Israeli company succeeds. The two companies, Israel Wind Power based in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv and Brothers Engineering Group from Bethlehem in the West Bank, have just announced their intention to cooperate in the building and selling of wind turbines in the West Bank region and beyond.
Most significant, they are undeterred by the latest tensions between Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and world powers in the wake of the recent Turkish-led flotilla incident that occurred near Gaza.
Brothers Engineering Group was founded by Dr. Mohammed Salem, a pharmacist, businessman and social entrepreneur with Engineers without Borders. Salem, the company’s CEO, has been in the wind business since 2006 and employs 15 people in Bethlehem. His company supplies wind turbines and solar solutions to the West Bank region.
"Business collaboration in the area of wind energy is something which will be for the benefit of everyone. It will serve as a bridge of peace for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Salem declares.
"We will be one company, together," Salem tells ISRAEL21c, adding that: "The plan is from yesterday not tomorrow." The two companies plan on cooperating in marketing, manufacturing and installation of wind turbines to generate electricity on a scale of 50 kW to provide wind power for factories, offices and private homes.
Start with the PA and move beyond
In fact, a year ago the Brothers Group made e-mail contact (in English, their common language) with Israel Wind Energy, a company that was founded about a year ago, which provides wind turbine solutions and has also developed its own wind turbine. "We got emails from them last year," says Yanir Avital, the Israeli company’s founder, standing at Salem’s side. "They were interested in our product. We visited their company in Bethlehem and felt they could be a good partner. We could use [Salem’s] connections, and with our connections we could help their company go one or two steps ahead."
The two sides intend to first cooperate on the integration of the wind turbines in the PA and later branch out beyond the region. "We’d like to develop and install wind turbines in the territories," says Avital. "In Israel we have very few places that can use this kind of energy."
Building their own wind turbines in the Bethlehem region for about five years, the Brothers Group supplies off-grid wind energy in the West Bank based on orders from non-profit organizations that direct the energy to those who need it most. They also supply turbines to private clients who buy them to offset electricity costs.
While the PA says it plans to offer feed-in tariffs from the Palestinian energy and utilities companies to the people who invest in renewable energy, as is currently the case in Israel and the US, at the moment no working network exists, Salem explains, so that for now his customers are either NGOs, or private citizens looking to reduce their energy costs.
The Brothers Group offers university students in the West Bank courses in building wind turbines, some of which are used for treating wastewater. The company also has experience with solar energy. Salem believes that the partnership with Israel Wind Energy will be mutually beneficial: "We will be good partners for designing and building big turbines, with our technology and their technology."
Israel Wind Power’s turbines are light, quiet and aesthetic, according to the company.
Expanding into the wind
In the West Bank, the Brothers Group doesn’t import any parts, but builds everything from scratch with the help of 10 engineers and five laborers. "Our turbines are built from parts from Palestine. We are the first and only wind company in Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine that’s building turbines," Salem asserts. He says he’d like to work in the Gaza Strip as well, but it’s impossible to bring in the parts, since the Israeli government highly regulates such materials which could also be used to build missiles.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian company builds about one wind turbine a day, which can generate from 200 to 2,000 watts of power, per hour.
Israel Wind Energy is already building wind turbine solutions slated for imminent export to Europe and Russia – these are mostly turbines that can convert wind energy for heating water. In just a few months the company is expected to begin selling its ‘Dude Ruah’ (‘wind tank’) that is currently in production. Founded to coincide with attractive feed-in tariffs offered in Israel, the company has also developed its own wind turbine which works well on household roofs and sports an attractive design and low-noise output.
"The turbines we make are light, quiet and aesthetic," Avital tells ISRAEL21c, pointing to one designed with an Israeli flag. A single kilowatt unit costs about $5,000 he says and would provide about one-quarter of the energy used in a mid-sized home.
However, according to Avital there is only one location in the Golan Heights which is ideal for wind, and the next suitable place in area is in the West Bank. He believes that cooperating with the West Bank-based Brothers Group could help the Israeli company to expand into regions where there is more wind.
A blessed enterprise
Yoram Suissa, the business development manager of Israel Wind Power, says that through the collaboration his Palestinian partners will be able to display their technology in the international arena: "We will be a pipeline for our Palestinian friends and colleagues for their products to be marketed both in Israel and abroad."
With its six employees, Israel Wind Power, which was formed and is financed by the Y. Avital holding company, plans to offer technical knowledge and professional training for large capacity turbines, as well as advanced wind energy approaches.
"We see this joint business venture as a business enterprise which connects these two communities in a blessed way, setting aside the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," says Salem. "We believe that this is an example of the ability of ordinary people to bridge gaps between our communities, especially during these stormy days."
The two companies hope to have projects up and running within the next year. That is, of course, assuming that the fickle political winds don’t blow the plans off course.