The year 2020 is fast approaching, and according to Israel’s targets following the Paris Agreement, 10% of the country’s electricity will be generated from renewable sources instead of fossil fuels by next year. However, 2020 will begin before Israel has overcome the 10% hurdle. At the same time, other nations have reached their energy targets some time ago and are already producing more than 10% of their electricity through renewable energies.
Worldwide, electricity generated from renewable sources is steadily increasing. According to a new report by the United Nations and the Frankfurt School of Economics and Management, global production of renewable energy has quadrupled in the last decade.
Today, renewable energies account for 26% of the world’s electricity production. This prevents two more gigatonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year, making a huge contribution to the fight against climate change. Among the world’s leading producers of renewable energy are Iceland (close to 100%), Costa Rica (almost 99%), Norway (98%) and Uruguay (98%).
Lots of sun, very little solar energy
In a country as hot and sunny as Israel, one would expect widespread use of solar energy, but unfortunately this is not the case. In 2014, electricity production from renewable energy in Israel was supposed to be 5%. However, only half of the country’s energy comes from renewable sources. Although the situation has improved slightly since then, it is still far from satisfactory. The target for 2030 is to generate at least 17% of all electricity from renewable sources.
A more optimistic example of investment in renewable energy comes from California, whose economy is one of the largest in the United States and the fifth largest in the world. California generates 34% of its electricity from renewable sources.
“In and around San Diego County, nearly 50% of energy is renewable,” says Scott Anders, director of the University of San Diego’s Center for Energy and Policy Initiatives. According to California law, the goal is to reach 60% by 2030 and 100% by 2045.
“California’s main renewable source is solar energy,” says Anders. “We have so much, because of the large solar farms and roof panels, that at certain times of the year we have too much renewable energy, and we have to get rid of it. The situation here is impressive. If you had asked me 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have said we’d get that far today.
Anders says the reach of renewable energy in California has increased largely because of policy measures, especially those taken by former State Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. “It wouldn’t just happen because of market forces,” he adds.
The good news
Despite the sobering figures, Israel recorded some successes in its effort to produce green energy. Seventy-five percent of the electricity consumed in and around Eilat, a coastal city on the southern edge of Israel’s Arava Desert, is now produced from solar energy. This was achieved through nine individual solar fields in Eilat and Arava and hundreds of solar roofs in public institutions and private homes. In addition, another field is currently under construction at Ramon Airport and Timna.
According to the municipality of Eilat, the ultimate goal is for the city’s electricity supply to come 100% from solar energy.
However, as already mentioned, the vast majority of electricity in Israel is still produced from fossil fuels, mainly natural gas and coal. According to Dr. Shahar Dolev, research director of the Israel Energy Forum, the main reason is, as expected, that money is the key.
“The perception among decision-makers in Israel is that, as a small country, it is better to wait and let other countries invest money and lay the foundations for these technologies so that costs drop sufficiently and efficiency increases,” says Dolev. “Then we’ll invest our money.
Other countries, however, have already invested hundreds of billions of dollars in renewable energy. According to the UN report, in the last decade, China has invested $758 billion in renewable energy, closely followed by the European Union with $698 billion. The U.S. and Japan have invested large sums with $356 billion and $202 billion, respectively.
Andres explains that extensive financial investment in solar energy in California is costly.
“Electricity prices in San Diego are among the highest in the United States,” he says. “The war on climate change costs money, but the question is, what’s the alternative? If we don’t switch to renewable energy, it will have a price, and it could be much higher. For the future of the State of California, for all of us, we must implement these policies.
The good news is that the cost of solar energy is much lower today than it used to be.
“Prices are falling at an unprecedented rate,” says Dolev. “We have reached a point where installing a solar panel is cheaper than receiving electricity from a fossil-fueled power plant. Consequently, in the last two years, we have seen a substantial change in the Israel Electric Authority’s approach to the issue.
Panels on all roofs
It takes a lot of space to build solar gardens. These generate electricity at a significantly lower price for consumers than electricity produced by panels on the roofs of private homes (0.09 Israeli shekels per kWh versus 0.48 shekels per kWh due to the advantage of farm size). In a country as small as Israel, however, it is difficult to find empty land. “We don’t have unused areas,” says Dolev. “The vast areas we have already function as IDF training areas, nature reserves or farmland.
Another problem arises from the fact that most of the solar fields are in the Negev desert and in the Arava valley, in the far south of Israel. It is therefore necessary to transfer most of the electricity produced northward to the most densely populated areas of the country. “The national electricity grid was built on the assumption that relatively few people will live in the Negev region,” explains Dolev. “Suddenly, astronomical amounts of electricity are being generated in the Negev. That’s not what the transmission system is made for,” he says.
The transmission grid is currently being modernized to address this problem, but it will take several more years to complete. “It costs a lot of money and takes a long time, and until then, there will be a ‘traffic jam’ from the Negev exit to the north,” says Dolev.
To increase the use of solar energy in Israel, despite transmission problems and higher costs, the Israeli Energy Forum supports a plan to place as many solar panels on as many roofs as possible, according to Dolev.
“Beyond that, every new building must include solar panels, or at least the preparation of panels on the roofs and also on the walls,” Dolev emphasizes. “Installing panels during construction is as inexpensive as installing panels of the same size in a solar farm. In addition, solar panels must be installed in any available space, including parking lots, roofs, sanitary landfills, etc.”.
Another way to increase the use of solar energy is to invest in systems that store energy for both short and long term use, allowing it to be used at night and during the winter. State-of-the-art technology for these systems is still very expensive and not yet available for commercial use; however, their prices are falling.
Until that happens, residents of Israel will have to follow traditional ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions simply by saving electricity. “There are simple steps to follow, such as adjusting the air conditioning to the recommended temperature according to the season or turning off the lights and air conditioning when leaving the room,” concludes Dolev.
The Ministry of Energy responded that “the Ministry of Energy is promoting the generation of electricity from renewable energy, as part of the government’s decision to reduce the use of coal in accordance with the state’s commitment in the Paris agreement.
“According to the plan of the Ministry of Energy and in cooperation with the Electricity Authority, Israel is expected to reach an intermediate target of 10% renewable energy production by 2020,” the ministry said.