The cabinet is set to discuss Sunday a proposal by the Energy Ministry to advance the use of renewable energy. Under the outline, by 2030, around 30 percent of Israel’s energy would be produced from renewable sources, the rest from natural gas. In parallel, Israel would stop generating electricity from coal.
This would be significant progress from the previous goal of 17 percent of energy produced from renewables, and it’s evidence of a positive change in approach. It would enable Israel to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and deepen its commitment to the international effort to halt climate change. The resulting reduction in air pollution and toxic emissions would significantly improve health.
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This wouldn’t only be a decision on paper. Israel is already shutting its coal-burning power plants, and over the past two years has significantly increased solar energy production; solar will soon account for 10 percent of Israel’s electricity production. This proposal, however, isn’t far-reaching enough for achieving environmental and economic goals.
This can be seen, in part, in the Environmental Protection Ministry’s detailed opposition to the proposal. Israel’s dependence on natural gas means the country will need to continue building facilities that emit greenhouse gases and air pollution, while Israel is less likely to be able to build a carbon-lite economy, the strategic goal of many countries around the world.
The Environmental Protection Ministry called for a more ambitious goal of 40 percent of energy production coming from renewable sources. It also wants power generating facilities to be built on top of existing buildings, not at the expense of open spaces, whose existence is crucial for the environment. Israel’s challenge over the next decade – increasing the percentage of electricity generated by renewable sources – is complicated, and it’s not clear the country will succeed.
Technological and financial questions remain regarding the storage of solar energy, an important component in meeting energy production goals. Finding suitable sites to build facilities, and connecting them efficiently and safely to the electricity grid, is a complicated task in a crowded country full of infrastructure and people. Thus the government will have to draft a policy that enables flexibility in all decisions concerning capacity and the kind of facilities to be built over the next decade.
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But the initial intent and goal are important for directing the electricity sector and all its players toward a future with less fossil fuel, which has turned from an existential need into an existential threat. The new message must be that some natural gas will remain in the ground.