Dr. Sharon Soroker and Max Kaplan-Zantopp

An Opportunity for Real Change

June 18, 2021

Six moves can bring about a rapid revolution in the Israeli energy economy, which will benefit all citizens of the country.

With the onset of a new coalition, Israel’s 36th government will induct 28 new ministers to usher in a new framework of legislation within the country’s many domestic and international sectors. Many minister positions are changing hands, but one change in particular may bring Israel closer to securing a clean energy economy. As the new Energy Minister, MK Karin Elharrar will have the unique opportunity to revolutionize Israel’s energy profile to accelerate the development of renewable energies, thereby significantly improving the lives of its citizens. 

Right now, 79% of the world’s energy production is produced from fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas, and burning those fuels accounts for 87% of global CO2 emissions. But burning fossil fuels also emits various air pollutants including PM2.5 fine particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers (1/1000 of a mm) that are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and pass the lungs-blood barrier into the blood stream, which can lead to a variety of negative health outcomes such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease. In fact, a new study recently found that an estimated 8.7 million deaths were linked to emission-tied air pollution in 2018 alone. And in Israel, over 2,000 Israelis die prematurely each year from chronic exposure to it, costing the country the equivalent of more than $7 billion annually. Relying more on clean energy, therefore, would reduce morbidity and mortality and generate massive financial savings. 

With the cost of solar energy production and storage still steadily declining, Israel could be on the verge of promoting and backing solar projects on a dramatic scale, especially considering the fact that Israel receives an average of nine hours of intense sunlight per day. Not only would such a move alleviate environmental stresses, but it would also generate enormous economic and social benefits as well as advantages for security and public health.

Benefits From All Angles

Ashalim Power Station – Plot B. A type of solar furnace to focus sunlight. Photo by Val Toch on Unsplash.

Because the cost of electricity is a key component of water utilities, including desalination and transmission, and tied to virtually all economic products and services, shifting the reliance away from fossil fuels to generate that electricity would do more than just decarbonize the economy and slow the pace of climate change.

In 2019, solar PV-generated electricity averaged around $0.38 per watt—99.6% lower than what it cost in 1976. But now, solar energy is considered the cheapest electricity in history, clocking in well below the levelized costs for gas and coal-fired power plants according to the IEA.

Countries that excel in this field can effectivity build up their sustainable image and more likely avoid various economic and diplomatic sanctions. Therefore, if Israel seizes this opportunity, it may very well make Israeli industry more internationally competitive, and it could very well lead to a reduction in the cost of living. Plus, transitioning to harnessing a larger share of renewable energies will create thousands of new jobs, some of which could provide opportunities for the chronically unemployed. Not only would this open up an entire industry, but it would also greatly strengthen research and development in an area where Israel has an environmental advantage over many other countries.

Socially, a distributed network of domestic and medium-sized solar systems will transfer a considerable share of revenue from electricity-generating fossil-fuel power plants to hundreds of thousands of households, farmers, and new players in the energy arena. With renewable energy becoming increasingly accessible, especially solar energy, any homeowner can easily become an electricity producer and enjoy a nearly risk-free monthly income.

From a security point of view, the vast majority of electricity production in Israel today is concentrated in a small number of power plants, which therefore represent themselves as potential strategic targets for hostile attacks from adversaries. Renewable energies provide an excellent opportunity to expand and decentralize energy production, thereby soothing national security concerns and preventing enemy states and terrorist organizations from destabilizing and paralyzing the Israeli economy.

Meet The Challenges of Energy

Shifting the reliance away from fossil fuels to generate that electricity would do more than just decarbonize the economy and slow the pace of climate change. Photo by Alexander Tsang on Unsplash.

In recent years, the government has set various targets for renewable energy production but has repeatedly failed. The latest goal aimed to generate 10% of Israel’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020, but actual production only ended up amounting to less than 6%. Regardless of the explanations and excuses for this situation, the results speak for themselves.

The new minister can already decide on some quick and wise steps Israel can take to ensure that it can efficiently meet its intended renewable energy targets and beyond.

  1. Completely remove the bureaucratic barriers trivializing the installation of solar systems in a dual-use configuration.
  2. Open the energy storage market so that everyone can store electricity from renewable energy that can be used at a later date.
  3. Automatically approve anyone who does not supply a surplus solar electricity to the electricity grid to freely install production and storage systems so that people can consume electricity from them.
  4. Open the electricity sector to competition, including the purchase and free sale of electricity (aggregators).
  5. Create a special regulation for the creation of renewable energy in IDF bases. Due to the IDF’s vast military jurisdiction, they could produce an enormous amount of solar energy to avoid the construction of several fossil fuel power plants. To do this, the IDF should receive a stimulus within the first year of the newly formed government, which would later be refunded by lowering electricity tariffs.
  6. Shift the framework of Israel’s household electricity tariff to a more progressive one similar to its water tariff: If you consume over the generous predetermined monthly amount, a higher tariff will be applied and vice versa.

Over the next thirty years, Israel is currently on track to double its electricity consumption due to population growth and the proposed transition towards electrifying transportation and industrial processes. Therefore, the infrastructure needed for renewable energy production in Israel must be strengthened now alongside existing power plants. Despite notions of complexity, pushing renewable energies forward is certainly doable with determined and ambitious leadership. 

On one hand, the prolonged hesitance in the field of renewable energy generation will continue to prompt the construction of additional fossil fuel power plants, which will continue to generate greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution for many decades. On the other hand, technological advancements have sparked tremendous opportunities to join and lead the renewable energy revolution, breaking our addiction to expensive and polluting fossil fuels and bringing us closer to a greener and cleaner world.

Dr. Soroker is an expert in the field of renewable energies

This ZAVIT Article was also published in The Jewish Journal on 17 Jun. 2021