In order to maintain Israel’s energy security for the foreseeable future, the government must refrain from exporting its newfound natural gas supply, as well as ensure that these reserves are not the country’s sole source of electricity, experts said at a forum on Sunday.

The conference, titled “Energy Security and Energy Strategies in Europe and Israel,” was held on Sunday at the Sde Boker campus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, organized jointly by the university’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research and German political foundation Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.

Researchers from both Israel and Europe gathered to discuss ways to guarantee that both will be able to maintain sustainable electricity supplies in an era in which oil resources are being depleted – and are increasingly expensive. Some of the key elements suggested were renewable energies, nuclear energy and with regard to Israel in particular – natural gas and oil shale.

“For many, many years we were almost totally dependent on importation,” said Dr. Shlomo Wald, chief scientist of the Energy and Water Ministry. “Now we are facing a new era – where for the first time we have the chance to get some energy independence, which is a crucial element in the energy security.”

Wald was referring specifically to natural gas, of which 750 billion cubic meters have already been found in the Tamar and Leviathan basins, with an expected 450 more in the vicinity.

“All the people say we are the new ‘natural gas princess,’” Wald said. “Are they right?” Not entirely, he argued.

Russia, for example, has around 44,000 billion cubic meters of natural gas and Iran has about 29,000, while Algeria, Egypt and Qatar all have in the thousands or tens of thousands.

”So first of all, be modest,” Wald said. “We have only 1,200 billion cubic meters, we shall never be a player of the global market.”

Therefore, he argued, rather than exporting the gas so that sellers can make money faster, the gas should stay within Israel and help maintain the country’s energy security for the next few decades. By 2040, the country will consume about 600 billion cubic meters, and even if explorers locate the rest of the 1,200 billion cubic meters, it will be exhausted completely by 2060, according to Wald.

“If we do not export, we should at least have a time to develop industry and get some security of supply for half a century,” he said.

Exporting the gas would be nothing less than a “disaster,” in Wald’s opinion “It’s a mistake, it’s against energy security,” he said. “It’s against energy independence.”

Wald explained that within Israel, natural gas will need to make up a significant chunk of the energy market at this point – as renewables will never exceed 30 percent of the total energy market in the near future. Israel’s current electricity usage is 60 terawatt-hours per year, with demand increasing at 2 terawatt-hours per year.

While the prospective amount of renewable energy available is about 75 terawatthours per year, its conceivable installation rate is only about 0.9 terawatt-hours per year, he said.

Although the newly abundant natural gas supply will be crucial to maintaining Israel’s energy independence and security, certain precautions must also be taken, particularly if the government intends to supply 80% of the country’s electricity through natural gas by 2020, according to Dr. Amit Mor, CEO of the Eco Energy consulting firm.

“To base a strategic commodity like electricity on just one pipeline is a major problem,” Mor said. “That’s why there is a need to insure the supplies of electricity.”

In an area that is well within the reach of Gaza’s rockets, the pipeline to Tamar and Leviathan must have multiple entry points as well as backup fuel sources, he said. An LNG regasification unit (liquified natural gas in a floating storage and regasification system) that is currently in the works is crucial, and it should remain a permanent backup source rather than simply a temporary solution to bridge energy gaps, Mor argued.

The Israeli market’s security could also benefit from a shift in fueling transportation with natural gas and renewable energy, and in 20 to 30 years, Israel will also need to consider constructing nuclear energy facilities, he added.

Such an approach – to use nuclear power – will be necessary all over the world, and is much less dangerous than the carbon dioxide currently being released en masse by fossil fuels, said Dr. Ari Rabl, a consultant on environmental impacts and a former senior scientist at the Center Energétique et Procédés of the École des Mines in Paris.

While nuclear waste can be managed safely by future generations, they cannot do anything about the carbon dioxide being pumped into the air, Rabl explained.

The cost of a nuclear accident – a rare occurrence when proper precautions are taken – is about .22 euro cents per kilowatthour, while the cost of air pollution and global warming is about 1.40 euro cents per kilowatt-hour, he said.

Another way to help secure Israel’s energy security would be creating oil from the Shfela region’s copious amounts of oil shale, which can now be heated in situ using a process that does not harm the aquifer, according to Dr. Harold Vinegar, chief scientist of Israel Energy Initiatives – the company responsible for the current oil shale explorations.

Natural gas can also be used to heat the shale, in a process where every $1 of methane used creates $23 worth of product, Vinegar argued. Meanwhile, Israel has about 250 billion barrels worth of oil shale in its underground reserves, he said.

“There’s an amazing synergy between the discovery of the vast amounts of natural gas in Israel and the even more vast amounts of oil shale in Israel,” Vinegar said. “The combination of abundant natural gas and oil from oil shale can make Israel completely energy independent and we should be able to do this in this decade.”

Whichever methods are undertaken to bolster Israel’s – and the Europe’s – energy supplies and security, simple conservation methods will not be enough to satisfy ever-increasing needs, Rabl argued.

“The best we can hope for is to more or less compensate the natural growth in demand and the growth in the economy [through conservation],” he said. “I don’t think we can get a dramatic reduction due to energy conservation.”

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