The Sixth Annual Eilat-Eilot Green Energy Conference took place in Eilat earlier this week – and its timing this year couldn’t have been more symbolic. Just outside the city, the feverish efforts continue to contain Israel’s most serious oil spill in some 40 years, in the Evrona nature reserve. The smell of crude oil that permeated the area illustrated the side effects of the use of polluting energy sources.
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The Eilat conference was among the events connected to Israel Energy Week, which began Wednesday of last week, the day the oil burst out of the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company’s pipeline. Participants could only hope that the shock of the sights in the south would lead decision makers to make a greater investment in steps required to reduce Israel’s dependence on crude oil.
Israel today produces only 1.5 percent of the energy it consumes from renewable sources, like sunlight. This is far less than the government objective of 10 percent. The great flowering of solar projects that began six years ago has wilted due to inconsistent government policies with regard to setting rates for solar power and allocating quotas for producing such power.
In the realm of energy efficiency, which is meant to help reduce the demand for polluting fuels, the government is also not keeping its promises. The Infrastructures, Energy, and Water Ministry drew up an efficiency plan that was meant to cut electricity consumption by 20 percent by the end of the decade. Recently, Adam, Teva, V’din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense), contacted the ministry to point out that even though the Energy Sources Law requires that the plan get government approval, nothing had been done about that to date.
The potential for solar energy production in a sun-drenched country like Israel is great. Even if we take into account the concerns of environmental organizations regarding the land use required by solar installations, which might harm areas of scenic and ecological importance, there is still plenty of land and buildings on which such installations can be erected. This week the director of Green Energy Association of Israel, Eitan Parnass, called on Negev mayors to pressure the government to allocate land within their jurisdictions for the production of solar energy. Just as agricultural settlements get land allocations, Parnass said, cities should also be allocated land for green energy production.
According to Yosef Abramowitz, co-founder of the Arava Power Company, a solar energy company, and today president and CEO of Energiya Global Capital, Israel can supply around half of its energy needs from solar energy. In the Arava the local authorities have plans that could lead to all the communities from the Dead Sea region southward to Eilat getting a major part of their power from solar energy fields by 2016. The region already has several such fields.
Israeli entrepreneurs are exploiting the knowledge they’ve accumulated to invest in other countries and help neighboring states. Abramowitz’s company recently inaugurated a facility to produce electricity from solar energy in Rwanda. This installation is in a rural area and could replace diesel fuel, which is expensive and polluting. The profits that accrue from the sale of the power will help fund an orphanage.
“We are killing off diesel anywhere we can,” says Abramowitz. He notes that neighboring states like Egypt and Jordan are also preparing to erect facilities to utilize solar energy.
Abramowitz is also trying to help promote the use of solar energy in the Palestinian Authority. The PA, he says, is now completing the regulatory infrastructure that would allow electricity production from renewable energy sources. It will be possible to generate some 1,000 megawatts of power in the PA areas, which would free the Palestinians from their total dependence on electricity from Israel. Palestinian engineers have been trained to install solar panels at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, located at Kibbutz Ketura, and there is a strong probability that the PA will get help with constructing the required infrastructure from countries like the United States.
While the fields of solar energy and energy efficiency are dragging, neither has there been a breakthrough in the effort to replace crude oil products for transportation. There are a few projects under development, however.
Over the last year the Dan bus cooperative has experimented with an electric bus, and it plans to make widespread use of such buses. The National Program for Oil Alternatives in Transportation, which operates in the Prime Minister’s Office, has finished its preparatory work on regulations for operating buses and heavy vehicles on natural gas. The plan is to start bringing such vehicles to market by next year.
There are also tests being conducted on the use of methanol (alcohol-based fuels) in private cars. This fuel might help Israel reach its ambitious goal of reducing the use of crude-oil based fuels for transportation by 60 percent by 2030.