Zvi Tabor – Solar Pioneer – Passes Away

Harry Zvi Tabor, born on March 7, 1917, passed away in Jerusalem on Dec. 16 at the age of 98.

Harry was a British-born Israeli physicist, known as the father of Israeli solar energy – generally credited with having brought Israel’s solar energy program to international prominence.

He received his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of London and Hebrew University.

He was instrumental in developing the solar water heater that 95 percent of Israeli households have. In 1992, he was awarded an honorary degree from the Weizmann Institute of Science. The simple water heaters that Tabor helped develop operated without pumps, whereby cold water was heated in the panel, which acted as a thermosiphon. That unit, in turn, became the standard for solar water heating worldwide, and helped popularize the commercialization of solar thermal technology in the U.S. in the 1970s, where Tabor lectured and acted as a consultant to solar start-up companies such as Northrup, Inc. which subsequently merged into ARCO Solar and became BP Solar.

Tabor experimented with various coatings to optimize the absorptivity of solar energy, with minimizing the re-radiation, or emissivity of the heat absorbed. Those experiments led to his development of a “black chrome” surface for the copper water-bearing plate.
Gilbert E Cohen, from Eliasol, worked for Tabor in Israel. He quotes Tabor often as saying: “I’m lucky to be working in an area where the market is guaranteed. The demand for energy is always on the upgrade, even in crisis periods.” Cohen recounts an interaction: “on a more personal basis: one late night when I started to work for him;  Zvi Tabor told me “you should go home now, don’t be like me,” and he added ‘if you catch the solar virus, it’s for life.’ Well I think I got that virus and there is no cure for it.”
I met Zvi in the early 1980’s when I served as Political Director of The Solar Lobby, founded by the big nine environmental groups. He would contact me to keep my spirits up when President Reagan removed the solar panels on The White House during his first year in office, as a symbolic slap at President Carter, whom he defeated, and Gov. Jerry Brown, whom he had defeated earlier. Zvi said, “truth was on our side, don’t despair”.  And I never have.

Lead image Harry Zvi Tabor, 1955. Credit: Moshe Pridan – National Photo Collection