Israel has made a name for itself as a center of high-tech and IT know-how and development. The knowledge, creativity and expertise of Israeli engineers and programmers can also be harnessed to development in new fields, in the energy industry. That at least is the view of Schneider Electric, a global French company that specializes in products for electricity grids and infrastructure.
Last month, a senior Schneider delegation visited Israel to examine new smart grid technologies for managing and securing power and water networks. The visit followed on from a series of highly successful meetings that Schneider held with Israeli companies in Paris last December. This time, the goal was to examine possible collaborations and acquisitions. There is even the possibility of an Israeli development center being set up, after the acquisition eighteen months ago of Vilesia, a French start up that develops energy efficiency technologies and that already maintains an Israeli development center.
The possibility that Schneider, a giant company with an annual R&D budget of about €1 billion, might invest in Israeli technology and know-how is an interesting new development. Up to now, IsraeI has not featured on the map of global power companies, in contrast to computer, telecommunications and software companies. The person largely responsible for the new turn of events is Pascal Brousset, SVP Strategy and CTO at Schneider Electric, who previously worked for German software giant SAP.
"I suggested that Schneider should enter the Israeli market after discovering at SAP that there are very talented software engineers here," says Brousset. "I presume that your military is the source of such professional manpower. Beyond that, there is a generation of people here that love to program and create. You can find programmers who will do what is asked of them in India and China too, but in Israel there is a pool of programmers who know how to extract the most from software. In fact, this is the greatest concentration of talent in the world after Silicon Valley."
30% saving in office buildings
The technology that Schneider is looking for here is to do with three main areas: energy efficiency, infrastructure systems security, and water systems management. Energy efficiency is closely bound up with the smart grid, and will attract huge investment in the coming years in research and development of new technologies. Schneider's activity focuses on office buildings. It claims to offer a 30% saving in energy consumption in office buildings, and to return the investment within a single year. "The installation of electricity infrastructures in buildings has undergone radical change in recent years," says Philippe Brami, country president of Schneider Electric Israel. "Today, it's part of the world of IT, and when you have a command of the software you can easily control power consumption and pinpoint where it is possible to save. In server centers, for instance, there is a huge waste of energy today, among other things because of an inappropriate ambient temperature, which is the great enemy of energy saving. We want our systems, server centers for example, to be connected to a central platform that will monitor the temperature this platform will be in Israel."
Energy efficiency in Israel is still stuck at the initial stage of installing smart meters that will be capable of reporting power consumption data to the Internet. In France, every new building constructed from next year onwards will be required to have sub-meters installed alongside the main meter, that will measure how much power is consumed by the lighting, heating, and air conditioning systems.
"We in France, like you in Israel, had a severe problem last year of a shortfall in power production capacity at peak hours," says Brami. "In Israel, the Israel Electric Corporation can cut off large factories by agreement and with notice. The innovation in France was that they introduced the possibility of cutting off power hungry systems in private houses on the same terms. If you cut off the water heaters in 10,00 houses for half an hour, that saves a lot of electricity, without the people in those houses feeling very much at all."
Do greater efficiency measures pay off even for a single household?
Brousset: "The margin you can obtain from energy efficiency measures in houses is not as great as in office buildings. Our solutions also include automation systems that, for example, turn off all the lights in the home when you want to watch a film. That's old technology. Using radio waves instead of wires means that these systems, which up to now have only been sold to the wealthy, can be much cheaper. Next month, we will launch a product that makes it possible to obtain all the information on what is happening in the domestic electricity cupboard via an iPad."
The subject of securing power, water, and sewage stems arose in meetings that Schneider held with well-known Israeli companies like Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: CHKP) and Elbit Systems Ltd. (Nasdaq: ESLT; TASE: ESLT). "These days, Western countries are exposed to a growing danger of cyber attack by terrorists on vital infrastructure systems," says Brousset. "At Check Point, they are now aware of the interface between the world of IT and the world of energy. They understand that the challenge will be protection of entire systems, and not of a specific building or office. Israel is the place where we will develop the software solutions for defense against these cyber attacks."
Jean-Marc Bally, who accompanied Brousset on his visit to Israel, is a founder and managing partner of Aster Capital, a venture capital firm owned jointly by Schneider and Alstom, which manages a budget of €150 million for investment in start ups. Like many of his colleagues, Bally had heard of Israeli company SolarEdge, a developer of inverters for photo-voltaic solar systems. "This year, we decided on expansion of our activity to Japan, China, and Israel," says Bally. "We are looking for green chemistry products, in the new generation of bio-plastic products. On power grids, more conductive components can make possible a saving of 1% on the grid, which could save constructing a power plant."
Charging a car without getting out of it
"The idea of charging an electric car using a cable from a charging station is old-fashioned and problematic," Schneider Electric says. "The cable, which is made of copper, could be stolen, and people don't like getting out of their cars in rain or hot sun." Schneider and other companies around the world are currently competing on the development of technology that will facilitate charging a vehicle by induction, without leaving it. From the charging station, an underground loop will be laid from which the vehicle's battery can receive electricity. One of the problems is that charging speeds with induction technology are lower than speeds using a regular cable. Schneider estimates that its system will start undergoing trials as early as next year.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 31, 2012
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