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BGU: Fulfilling the Vision

Sheffield Dispatch from Israel

Boca Raton News: April 5, 2009 - Skip Sheffield

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By invitation of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Boca Raton News Society Editor Skip Sheffield spent a week in Israel, as described below. See his subsequent reports published on April 12 and April 20 and April 30.

On our way to Ben-Gurion University in Beer-Sheva, we stopped at Kibbutz Yavne, 40 kilometers south of Tel Aviv. Kibbutz Yavne is a collective community of 1,300 people. It is typical of such cooperative communities across Israel with one important exception.

Kibbutz Yavne is a laboratory for a prototype solar power system developed by Dr. David Faiman, chair of Ben-Gurion University's Department of Solar Energy and Environmental Physics and one of Israel's foremost experts on solar power.

Dr. Faiman has developed a system of convex, mirrorsurfaced solar collectors, each focused on a 4 by 4-inch photovoltaic cell, generating energy 1,000 times greater than that of a standard solar panel at a fraction of the cost.

Faiman's work attracted Zenith Solar, an Israeli start-up company that has licensed the technology.

"Our goal is to mass-produce reliable solar electric and thermal energy at a price competitive with traditional energy sources, without government subsidies," explained Roy Segev, CEO of Zenith Solar.

"We started this project in December 2005 and on April 26, 2009, we will have a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the first phase." The 86 solar modules, spread over two acres, will provide the electricity and hot water needs for 250 homes, saving 40 tons of oil a year.

There is no better place to conduct such an experiment than in the sunny desert of Negev. The USA, Europe and China consume 55 percent of the world's energy sources, and China's power needs are rising exponentially at a factor of 4 on a yearly basis, Dr. Faiman warns.

The need for sustainable energy sources has never been greater. "It may be too late," Dr. Faiman admits. "But we've got to keep trying. Our goal is to reach a cost of a half-cent per kilowatt to be competitive with conventional power sources."

The next stop was the main campus of Ben-Gurion University, located in the Negev Desert in the ancient city of Beer-Sheva. Professor Rivka Carmi is the president of BGU, and she is the first woman in Israel to hold such a position.

"BGU was founded by government mandate nearly 40 years ago in the sparsely populated Negev," Dr. Carmi explained. "David Ben-Gurion considered the Negev the future of Israel. We are committed to fulfilling that dream."

David Ben-Gurion (1886- 1970) is considered the father of modern Israel. He came to the Ottoman Palestine in 1906, fought in the British Army's Jewish Legion in World War I and became the first prime minister of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, serving until June 21, 1963.

Ben-Gurion retired with his American-born wife Paula to Midreshel Kibbutz in the Negev in 1970, and is buried there with Paula by his side.

Ben-Gurion was a prime instigator of bringing water and revolutionary conservation techniques to make the Negev bloom, and Ben-Gurion University is committed to making the dream a reality.

Ben-Gurion University is a sprawling complex consisting of a university, a medical school and a hospital, all at the same site.

The Negev is home to some 160,000 Bedouins, the poorest, most disadvantaged segment of Israel's population. An important segment of BGU's mission is to outreach to the Bedouin community with education and free medical services.

In exchange, the Bedouin offer BGU researchers unique opportunities to study an isolated, genetically inbred population.

In the days to come we would learn about the groundbreaking scientific, ecological, medical, agricultural and architectural research being conducted in the harsh desert of Negev.