Daniel Madar

Can Israel become an energy independent nation?

June 8, 2019

Israel's energy infrastructure relies on a centralized source supplying mainly natural gas to power plants all over the country. Unexpected events such as natural disasters, supply shortages or war could quickly bring a nation's electricity grid to its knees

Recently, amid yet another violent clash between Gaza and Israel, it was reported that Israel’s Minister of Energy had ordered the suspension of the transfer of natural gas from the Tamar field to the Ashdod gas rig, for security reasons. Being in the vicinity of the Israeli-Gaza Border, Ashdod is a frequent target for missiles, which might also put the near rig at risk.

Moreover, an economic state of emergency had been declared for one week to enable the use of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) and highly polluting diesel instead of regular natural gas, in order to provide energy to the national electric grid and the Industry sector.

The cost of these steps is a weekly $42 million, as well as excessive air pollution due to the burning of diesel fuel instead of gas. Ultimately, these extra costs will be borne by the Israeli public, with the next rise in energy and electricity prices – and that’s before taking into account the $1.5 billion that Israel has already invested in combat vessels and naval iron domes (anti-missile system) for the security of the gas rigs.

Thus, even without real physical damage to the country’s vital infrastructures, a hostile terrorist organization manages to bend Israel’s hand and put a significant price tag on any future confrontation in which rocket fire will be involved. All this is in addition to the casualties and the severe damage to property and the economy due to combat events.

Currently, Israel’s electricity and energy grid depend for 65%of its electricity generation on one natural gas rig and one gas supply pipeline (in the future two platforms and two pipes), which then feed into 30 individual power stations throughout the country. The Orot Rabin power plant, for example, is responsible for the production of 15-20 percent of Israel’s electricity. A critical blow to the connection of this plant to the electricity grid may paralyze the entire electricity sector.

All the components of the Israeli electricity grid, especially the offshore gas rigs and the corresponding terminals at the beach, are vulnerable to damage from combat events, as well as to extreme weather. Extensive power outages are not uncommon in Israel, and in some extreme cases even last for days. In 2015, for instance, 24.000 Israelis were without electricity for four consecutive days after strong winds caused severe damage to main power lines.

The solution to the problem is simple: the decentralization of the energy sector. It is already possible to start building a cheap, environmental-friendly, stable and efficient energy supply system that will be based mostly on photovoltaic cells, which can be installed on buildings, and energy storage facilities (through which solar energy can be utilized even in dark hours). Individual storage systems can be distributed across tens of thousands of large and small structures and devices (even electric cars can serve as storage facilities). Therefore, also if 100 storage facilities are damaged, the defect will only be localized and not cause the entire system to break down. Fixing a damaged component will be simpler, cheaper, and much faster than repairing a natural gas power plant, or even a damaged electricity pole.

The following scenario is not impracticable: tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of buildings in Israel will be equipped with photovoltaic cells that supply electricity directly to buildings. Those buildings that consume less power than their solar cells produce feed their excess electricity back into the grid from where it is transferred to buildings which consume more electricity than they produce. The excess electricity produced is stored in modular storage facilities that are also located in buildings, neighborhoods, and cities.

In the event of a failure of the central electricity grid (due to an armed conflict, a natural disaster, etc.), any building, neighborhood or city that has sufficient photovoltaic cells and energy storage infrastructure can, at the very least, maintain the functioning of essential systems such as water pumps, electricity for elevators and medical devices. If a system is large enough, it may even be able to support daily life without experiencing interruption to the power supply, because the electricity is consumed right where it is produced and stored.

Such a solution would provide real energy strength, and more than that – energy independence; not reliant on one or two large electricity companies controlling energy production, independent of foreign relations or other countries. Studies show that the direct economic cost of such a solution is likely to be of similar cost if not cheaper than the maintenance and expansion of a current conventional electricity system (11 cents per kilowatt-hour). When including external costs (damages caused by air pollution and climate change), this solution is 2-3 times cheaper than the current cost (28 cents per kWh).

In this scenario, it could be possible to save billions of dollars on the security of gas rigs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation by 90 percent. Combat events and natural disasters would no longer be a looming threat to the supply of natural gas, power stations, and the electricity transmission network. Building such a system takes time; therefore, it has to start now, so that in 10 years, it can become a reality.

This ZAVIT article was also published in Ynetnews on 06/07/2019.