This is the first blog in a series of three, which explore issues of energy in Jordan, Israel and Palestine. This entry was written by Daniel Olson, FoEME intern at the Tel Aviv Office and a senior Environmental Studies major at Yale University.
When it comes to renewable energy use, some may see Israel as a contradiction. On the one hand, thanks to laws mandating solar water heaters in all buildings, Israel has the highest per-capita solar energy use in the world, about 3% of total national energy consumption.
On the other hand, electricity generation still relies almost exclusively on foreign fossil fuels. Annually, Israel emits 79.8 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. This summer alone, three oil spills have affected southern Israel. Two in the Gulf of Eilat came close to devastating Israel’s only coral reef. A more severe disaster happened on land, when a tractor ruptured an oil pipeline, spilling 1.5 million liters of jet fuel on the Nahal Zin nature preserve. The spill decimated vegetation in the area, and continues to threaten precious groundwater supplies. It has been called Israel’s worst environmental disaster.
Israel’s dependence on fuel imports exacerbates the situation: these energy sources don’t just pollute, they also compromise Israel’s energy security. Just two weeks ago, attackers in Egypt blew up a natural gas pipeline terminal into Israel and Jordan, a sign of how vulnerable Israel’s imported energy can be.
In order to reduce the risks described above, a few years ago Israel set a goal that by 2020, 10% of all energy would come from renewable sources. However, Israel did not really act on this goal. Solar companies complained of excessive red tape, with some firms moving their operations overseas.
Fortunately, this past week the Israeli Cabinet agreed to promising new measures to work toward achieving the country’s goal. The government will invest 5 billion shekels (or about 1.5 billion dollars) into a feed-in tariff system, which will allow companies and entrepreneurs seeking to profit from renewable energy to sell electricity derived from solar, wind, and biogas to the Israel Electric Company for a higher price. This method, which has been used in other countries, evens the playing field for producers of renewable energy.
But not too much. The new policy limits the amount of renewable energy that can be sold, in order to protect the state’s pockets. A Jerusalem Post editorial questions the logic of this provision. It might make sense as a short term measure but if the costs of renewable energy shrink while the costs of fossil fuels grow; it will look silly in retrospect.
Hopefully, this policy will continue to foster innovation and growth in the domestic renewable energy market. The benefits to Israel would be tremendous: fewer pollutants in the atmosphere, smaller environmental risks, and enhanced energy security. It’s not like the sun will stop shining here!