Analysis: Israel must use more solar power to generate electricity

By Stephen Tindale, September 3, 2009

Israel is a world leader in solar energy. About three quarters of all households use the sun to heat water, using a technology called solar thermal.

Israeli firms are also widely recognised as leaders in the field of solar electricity. For example, BrightSource signed a major deal in February to create a solar power plant in southern California, which will generate enough electricity for almost a million homes. A much smaller plant is planned for the Negev.

But Israel could and should be doing much more, not just to help control climate change but to help Israel’s energy security by reducing — and ultimately removing — the need to import coal and oil.

At the moment, Israel imports about 85 per cent of its energy. Its electricity is almost entirely from fossil fuels, mainly coal — which it has to import in huge quantities, mainly from South Africa.

It uses less oil for electricity than it used to, because it has increased its use of natural gas, which it has in abundance. However, the oil it does use is imported from Egypt, Angola, Mexico, Colombia and Norway, Russia and Kazakhstan.

Despite all this, the free market does not deliver renewable energy, as the cost is still higher than for fossil fuel energy.

Israel’s success with solar thermal is down to a law passed in 1980, which makes it mandatory for all new buildings (except hospitals and industrial buildings) to be fitted with solar thermal panels. Unfortunately, there have been no such measures for solar electricity.

The Israeli government set targets in 2002 for two per cent of electricity to come from renewables by 2007, rising to five per cent by 2016. But targets alone are irrelevant and this one made little difference.

By the end of 2008, only 0.01 per cent of Israeli electricity came from renewables.

In January 2009, the government announced more ambitious targets: five per cent by 2014 and 10 per cent by 2020. These are still quite modest. By comparison, the EU agreed, in December 2008, a target of 20 per cent of all energy (that is, electricity, heat and transport) to come from renewables by 2020.

Israel faces a major challenge to expand its electricity generation over the next decade. For energy independence, economic, social and climate reasons, Israel must move quickly to harness a natural resource that it has in abundance: sunlight.

Stephen Tindale is the co-founder of Climate Answers and former executive director of Greenpeace UK

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010