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In the area of renewable energy, it seems as if every silver lining has a cloud; solar energy, for example, is great when the sun is shining, but not too effective at night. Ditto for wind-generated energy, solar thermal power, and other renewables. Renewable energy plants are expensive, and the energy they generate is usually more expensive than fossil fuel-generated power – and if the system can only operate for part of the day, few, if any, investors are going to sink money into large-scale commercial production facilities.

Unless, of course, that renewable energy can be stored. If one could, for example, store the solar energy generated during the day in order to produce electricity at night, there might be something to talk about with investors – and with power providers, who have been resisting alternative energy because of, among other things, storage issues. Indeed, energy storage is often called the “missing link” as the world moves from the traditional method of generating power to the “smart” grids expected to dominate in the 21st century. So figuring out better and more efficient and effective ways to store energy has become a top priority; entrepreneurs are hard at work all around the world trying to figure out ways to keep the sun’s rays and the wind’s gusts working even on a perfectly calm and still night.

To that end, a plethora of international organizations – including the U.S. Defense Department (Office of Naval Research) – are searching the world for innovative energy storage technologies. They’re searching here in Israel, as well – and on September 11, the seven most promising Israeli renewable energy innovators will gather at Tel Aviv University for the semi-finals of the Energy Storage Challenge, where they will give their pitches and demonstrate their products/concepts. There’s a lot at stake; the winner moves on to the finals in London, where they could net a cool $250,000 r&d grant!

Although most of the media talk about renewable energy points out the benefits of the technology – like, for example, how the electric car will save gas and lower pollution – less attention is paid to the associated storage problems, says Eran Yarkoni of Capital Nature, one of the sponsors of Sunday’s Challenge, along with the MIT Enterprise Forum in Israel. “There’s no doubt that the better the storage options, the more popular alternative energy will be,” he says. “It’s like the electric car – everyone’s excited about the car, but no one is excited about the battery, which is expensive and too big. Innovations are definitely needed in the area of storage, both of large-scale energy systems based on solar, wind, and other alternative sources, as well as for electric cars.”

A review of the companies that will be presenting at the event includes several that has developed a “significant advance” in the operation of electric cars – one with a supercapacitator that will save energy by more efficiently conducting power from the car’s battery to the ignition system, and another that has developed more efficient battery electrodes. Other projects include a system for utility-scale electric energy storage which could be used for storing energy derived from large solar panel or wind farms, and another that stores solar thermal energy (harnessing solar heat, rather than the sun’s light, for generating electricity). And many others, some of which have the capacity to make a major difference in the alternative energy business, after some more development and refinement.

The fact that an outfit like Yarkoni’s Capital Nature even exists is a clear sign that alternative energy is going to be a big part of tomorrow’s economy. The company invests strictly in startups that are working in the renewable energy field, and operates a test field in the Arava where tech companies can test their ideas and projects. Among the companies Capital Nature works with at the site are Pythagoras Solar, which develops integrated photovoltaics for apartment houses and office buildings, B-Solar, which develops and manufactures higher-capacity photovoltaic cells, and Solar Edge, makers of advanced photovoltaic inverters.

And Yarkoni himself is a veteran of the renewable energy business; he was the founder & CEO of EnStorage, which develops low-cost regenerative fuel-cell (RFC) energy storage systems for power grid load leveling, and solar and wind power generation plants. That renewable energy is here to stay is also evidenced by the fact that Capital Nature counts among its partners some of the biggest names in Israeli technology, including Elbit, Ormat, Rafael, , ProSeed and Ben-Gurion University among others. “Technology is driving down the price for energy generated by alternative means, and sooner than later the world is going to flock to these solutions,” says Yarkoni. “We intend to be there, on the cutting edge, helping to shape the energy technology of tomorrow.”

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Category: cleantech, patents, r & d

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