June 26, 2008
From security to the environment — L.A. and Israel exchange ideas
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Villaraigosa inspects the remnants of kassam rockets launched from Gaza into Sderot. Official photo.
At the CleanTech roundtable, the L.A. delegation was briefed by some of Israel's leading green industrialists and entrepreneurs, including Ofer Bloch, president of Netafim, the world leader in drip-irrigation systems.
Although familiar with drip irrigation, which delivers water and fertilizer directly to plant roots, thereby reducing evaporation, the Los Angeles group was surprised to learn that Netafim's systems reduce water use by up to 50 percent and increase crop output approximately 30 percent.
The mayor noted that his own home sports an underground irrigation system.
"It worked well until some gophers came along," he said, eliciting a laugh. "No, really, it was a problem."
The delegation's members were particularly captivated by Shai Agassi, the boyish entrepreneur who plans to create a series of electric charging and battery exchange stations for the first generation of electric cars. If the project succeeds, Israel would become the first to establish a recharging network, and it could be a huge boon to the electric car industry, because existing models typically run only 100 miles on a single charge.
Agassi has signed an agreement whereby Renault-Nissan will provide the electric cars.
"We're creating swap stations," Agassi said of the network of 150 stations that would extend throughout Israel. "They look like a car wash. You exchange your car battery and drive off." The goal, he continued, "is to break the monopoly on oil imports and to lessen carbon monoxide emissions."
While impressed, some delegates asked whether the electricity for the cars would always be generated in a green way. Agassi responded that different municipalities and countries would need to make that decision.
H. David Nahai, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power CEO, noted that Israel "is still paying a great deal of attention to expanding coal capacity to provide energy, the source we feel is most problematic because it emits CO2. In Israel, 70 percent of its energy is produced by coal, compared to 46 percent in L.A. But Israel has also made tremendous advances in water conservation, desalinization and harnessing solar power."
Nahai also said he would like to see all new Israeli buildings incorporate many of the energy- and water-saving features that are now cropping up in Los Angeles, due to a new green building ordinance. The features range from waterless toilets and low-flow showers to compact fluorescent lighting and gray-water reusage utilizing rainwater captured on the roof or in a cistern. Israelis, in contrast, do not capture rainwater, but they do heat their water via rooftop solar panels.
"Israelis and Angelenos have a lot to learn from each other," Nahai concluded.
For his part, the mayor spoke with personal emotion about the trip's impact, not only on the future of Los Angeles but also on himself and his children, who accompanied him on the trip. Though he has visited Israel twice before, Villaraigosa called this visit "particularly meaningful."
"Bringing a delegation of top officials focused on security and the environment is an added element. The mayor added that he "grew up attending Catholic schools. My faith is important to me and my family.
"We feel a tremendous connection to the Holy Land and to the people of Israel," he said.