How is Israel ever going to meet its 10% renewable goal?
Israel with its population of 7 million hardly needs much total electricity. Only 40 Gigawatts (40,000 MW). To get 10% of its power from renewable energy, as it has pledged to do by 2020 – would take only about 4,000 MW of renewable power. Most of it will have to come from solar: there’s only 600 MW of wind potential.
So a mere 5 MW solar project is an exceedingly unambitious step towards the total 4,000 MW needed, and we are just 9 years from 2020.
And that 5 MW solar project (4.9 MW to be exact) pioneered by the Arava power company at Kibbutz Ketura is the only solar project begun. For such a developed nation, the lackadaisical approach to the goal is almost laughable.
The sad thing is that it is the work of Israeli inventors and engineering talent that blazes new trails worldwide in solar power. Israeli companies, from the solar hot water firm Chromagen, to (the now Siemens-owned) Solel, to the invisible solar window inventor, Pythagoras – all go overseas to succeed in business.
At the utility-scale, Israel’s Luz pioneered an entire industry, the model that all the other solar thermal projects worldwide benefit from; from Spain and Portugal to California.
It is the technical pioneering by Luz, which successfully operated the first solar thermal project in the world in the California desert – pumping out Californian power since the 80’s – that is the kernel from which the US company BrightSource has grown.
Gigantic EU companies like Iberdrola and Abengoa have grown rich on the idea pioneered by Israel’s Luz, yet Israel itself lags far behind.
What is it that holds Israeli renewable energy back? It is not the lack of brains.
It is bureaucratic failure. While not out and out corrupt like the US which allows corporate bribery, Israel does have real obstacles to renewable development, because it has not created the political organization needed to handle renewable energy.
The developer of that one tiny 5 MW project, Yosef Abramowitz, had to practically reinvent the wheel to get his solar kibbutz project going. It took him four years of battling Israeli bureaucracy.
“It was a question of extreme incompetence,” Abramowitz said. “We had to overcome more than 25 separate battles with various government departments, including the introduction of new legislation through parliament and a government decision. There are 17 government ministries involved in the issue that have no communication, no coordination whatever.”
Although 60% of Israel is vacant land, the 4/5ths that might be usable (one fifth is protected nature reserve) has been set aside for the military. But military bases are not at all incompatible with solar installations.
In the US, some of the largest solar projects are on military bases. It helps that President Obama signed an Executive Order commanding all the federal agencies to reduce their greenhouse gases 30% by 2020. The Department of Defense was among the first to step up.
In the US, Renewable Energy Standards at the state level are the driving force behind renewable development – in blue states. Our red states don’t pass progressive legislation. These include a stick of hefty fines if utilities don’t meet the targets. In Israel… not so much. Although the 10% by 2020 pledge has been signed, there is no legislative mechanism in place to make it happen.
As someone who is dismayed by the corruption here in the US that hampers renewable development, it’s sad to find out that things are no slam dunk in other nations, either.
More on what slows Israeli renewable development:
Israel Offers a Too-Low Rate For Wind Feed-in Tariff
Israel’s Grid Will Never Handle Renewable Energy Goals