Israeli Renewable Energy – Why Israel, Why Now?

danny-levBy Danny Lev, Analyst in IDC Research IL (www.idc.com)

An old Israeli joke describes how God led Moses through the desert to the Holy Land for 40 years, through hardships and dangers, only to lead the Israelite nation to the only spot in the Middle East where there isn’t a drop of oil.

Two thousand years later, things have remained pretty much the same. Today, Israel is considered an “island-state”, with over 99% of its capacity produced from imported fossil fuels.

In alignment with global trends, Israel has experienced a recent surge of new ventures in the field, comprising commercial, academic and regulatory initiatives. Although a pioneer and home to world leaders in the RE field, the post-80s low oil pricing era left the Israeli RE industry relatively dormant in comparison with its blossoming high-tech activity.

Recent developments in RE market volume and value have once again sparked an interest in RE-oriented R&D, as well as the initiation of ambitious domestic power generation projects. From my position as senior consultant at Ernst & Young’s RE division and later as an IDC cleantech analyst, I personally witnessed the transition of RE companies from marginal tree-huggers to hot investment opportunities. Now all that is left to be seen is if and how the country will harness recent supportive trends in becoming an energy-efficient global market leader.

As in Europe and the US, Israel is highly influenced by recent global trends such as global warming and volatile oil prices. However, due to the country’s size, climate and geopolitical status, some local parameters apply with greater force:

Need to expand the Israeli power generation capacity

Israel’s current energy consumption status reflects its unique combination of European living standards with the rapid growth in fossil-based energy demand; typical of developing countries. To illustrate, Israel’s per-capita energy usage increased by 44% since 1990, as opposed to the EU, where the average per-capita energy usage increased by only 15%.

According to a recent report by the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection, Israel has become more dependent on imported fossil fuels than ever before, while its energy intensity has not decreased. Moreover, Israel has no electrical interconnections with neighbouring countries, and must depend on its extremely low reserves to meet demand during peak hours.

As a result, the Israeli peak-demand for electricity is dangerously close to its current power generation capacity and is forecast to grow further in the coming years. Addressing this growing demand, recent statutory discussions have explored alternatives beyond the addition of fossil power plants. In this context, supportive regulation has been initiated towards greener solutions in general and turning to RE sources in particular.

Striving for energy independence – the above mentioned dependence on fossil fuel imports leads to heavy economic and political burdens; not only are fuel purchases dependent on fickle pricing, but also strengthen foreign economies which may often constitute or support governments and regimes that are hostile to Israel.
Polluted air in densely populated areas – fuel combustion for electricity generation has long been targeted as a major polluter in Israel, estimated to be responsible for approximately 50% of the country’s air pollution.

Israel is one of the densest countries in the world in terms of both population and land area, with 60% of the population of 7 million residing along the narrow coastal strip along the Mediterranean.

If pollutant emissions per capita in Israel are considered high, they are even higher when calculated in terms of emissions per square kilometre. Findings show that under a business-as-usual scenario and in the absence of a national plan on greenhouse gas mitigation in Israel, greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 may climb some 63% in comparison with 2000. Public pressure today demands a transition towards cleaner air, ground and water supplies, and the increased use of an environmentally benign power supply.

Increased sensitivity to global warming

Israel’s population density and its location at the edge of the desert make it especially vulnerable to climate change; according to the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection, Israel has witnessed a warming trend since the beginning of the 1970s, with average temperatures expected to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2020 and by up to 5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century compared to 1960 – 1990. Recent years have also witnessed an increase in the frequency and length of extreme weather events, including years which are either exceedingly wet or exceedingly dry, with predictions pointing to further increases in the number and frequency of such events (e.g., drought years, floods, heat waves).

The Ministry of Environmental Protection stresses that adaptation strategies must be formulated and implemented in order to address the dire impacts of climate change which are already evident today and will be further aggravated in the near future. In addition, according to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), these impacts will be more severe in the Mediterranean Sea area than in other parts of the world.

Preparing for formal requirements for greenhouse gas reductions

Israel, which ratified the Climate Change Convention in 1996 and the Kyoto Protocol in 2004, does not currently have any binding limitation on its greenhouse gas emissions since it was classified as a developing country. When the new global agreement is expected to come into effect, Israel may well be subject to formal requirements for greenhouse gas reductions. Therefore, the country has initiated a number of steps related to both climate change mitigation and adaptation to prepare for the post-Kyoto period.

With the flourishing CleanTech environment abroad and the beginning of regulatory support from within, efforts by a wide range of academic, technological and commercial ventures in Israel have begun to make progress in addressing local and global challenges alike.

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