Israeli solar company looks to Africa, US for opportunities

During a recent trip to Israel for pv magazine, Max Hall spoke to Asi Levinger, CEO of renewables developer Energix and was given a potted history of the company as well as hearing about its future aims, why focusing on wind is critical and why he ruled out moves into the UK, Chinese and Indian markets

Case study: Energix Group

Energix CEO Asi Levinger spotted a market opportunity as a solar developer in Israel in 2009 when, as assistant to the CEO of Amot – the Israeli subsidiary of global real estate group Alony Hetz – he was repeatedly asked to lease out roofspace for solar systems on Amot’s portfolio of office space and shopping malls.

Levinger secured NIS10 million ($2.57 million) from the chief of Alony Hetz to set up Energix as a subsidiary of Amot and installed the last 14 systems under Israel’s first solar tender, on Amot properties.

A joint venture with Granot Group – one of Israel’s largest agricultural co-operatives – followed, with Energix installing five medium-sized (up to 12 MW) systems plus another two systems of the same scale on Amot buildings.

"Those early installations were a test-bed for us," Levinger said, "we tried different combinations of modules, inverters and mounting systems to see which set-up performed best."

After experimenting with modules from Schott Solar, Solar Frontier, Q-Cells, Sanyo, Suntech and Solon, Levinger settled on First Solar‘s thin-film units as his default choice, using them on the developer’s flagship Ne’ot Hovav solar project, with Energix also favouring Kaco and SMA inverters.

In its first two years, Energix installed 30 small-scale systems and seven medium-sized projects before floating in mid-2011, with Alony Hetz becoming majority shareholder.

Europe is a no-go for solar

"As an Israeli subsidiary we could only operate in Israel," added Levinger. "We wanted to explore opportunities abroad. We are looking at various markets around the world. We discounted the UK because of policy uncertainty and we can’t find a place in Europe to invest in PV so we are looking at Africa, the U.S. and other places.

"We are not looking at India or China because we have no relative advantage on local players and the cultural gap would be a disadvantage. We did look at the Indian market but the financing interest rate was too high – it was similar to Germany so why not just invest in Germany?

"I also want to work with people in countries like Jordan because I believe economic co-operation is the way to peace and electricity is one of the basic things everybody needs."

Levinger wants NIS2bn ($514 million) in assets and NIS300m ($77 million) of revenues by 2017-18 with the aim of becoming an independent power producer, driven by a projected portfolio that will be one-third PV and two-thirds wind with the same proportions in and outside Israel, respectively.

"Energix must be the fast rider on the elephants’ trail," said Levinger. "We must become an IPP and that’s a game for big players."

For a full examination of the state of play in the solar industry of Israel and Palestine, see the latest edition of pv magazine, out on June 6.