Environment: A bright start, but is it bright enough?

New renewable energy regulation are a "step in the right direction," but still far from sufficient to meet country’s needs, experts say.

July 22, 2011 16:58
Kibbutz Ketura's solar field

Ketura solar field 311. (photo credit: Sharon Udasin)

Following weeks of butting heads over proposed amendments to the state’s renewable energy regulations, which are commonly regarded as archaic, Sunday’s cabinet meeting finally led to an affirmative vote on a new set of quotas and rules that industry experts say are a step in the right direction – but also far from sufficient.

“The program is actually looking quite good in terms of the amount of megawatts – it’s improving – as well as the variety of renewable energy sources – wind, biogas, biomass, solar and new technologies – but they only tackle the long-term goals,” Eitan Parness, chairman of the Renewable Energy Association in Israel and head of the Association of Solar Energy Companies, told The Jerusalem Post.

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The program institutes a new a quota of 460 MW for large solar fields, a gradual addition of 110 MW for small solar rooftop panels – 20 to be added this year, 30 in 2012, 30 in 2013 and 30 in 2014 – as well as 800 MW for large wind turbines and 210 MW for a combination of biogas and biomass, with no extras to the current 300 MW allotted for medium-sized solar fields.

For each of these caps – including the original quota on the medium fields – 10 percent will be specifically designated for Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria, a gesture of “affirmative action” for the West Bank region, according to National Infrastructures Minister Dr. Uzi Landau.

The total investments required for the country’s future renewable energy installments according to these quotas could amount to approximately $5.048 billion, according to industry figures.

While praising the government for looking out for Israel’s long-term goals by providing allowances for solar-thermal, wind turbines and biogas plants – all of which take several years to develop – Parness and his organization criticized the government for “neglecting” the shortterm, as it provides only a narrow choice of technologies – namely, photovoltaic panels – that can start producing renewable energy here and now.

Meanwhile, his group commended Landau and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan on their “achievement against the Treasury,” but said that the government was actually “sabotaging itself in implementing the determined production targets.”

While the new megawatt allocations are an improvement, they are not high enough to reach Israel’s target goals of 5% renewable electricity production by 2014 and 10% by 2020, because the government is calculating the projected consumption for those years assuming that the country will see significant conservation increases as mandated by the national energy preservation program, rather than using “business as usual” data, he said.

According to National Energy Preservation Program requirements, which mandate that the public reduce its annual energy consumption by 20%, the country would only need the 2,760 MW that it has allocated for 2020 to reach the desired 10% renewable figure that year, Parness said. But with current energy consumption trends, the government would actually need to allocate 4,000 MW for that year, he explained.

“This is an unprofessional way of dealing with energy, because there is a ‘business as usual’ scenario,” he asserted.

“What they have done is very dangerous for Israel.

They actually are calculating on the basis that we will truly succeed, and they’ve only failed up till now.”

While the government has predicted that Israelis will consume approximately 64.2 terawatts in the year if adhering to National Energy Preservation Program standards, the Renewable Energy Association has predicted that the country will realistically still consume 80.5.

“You shouldn’t mix two separate government programs and artificially rely on goals you haven’t achieved yet,” Parness said. “The end result is false numbers.”

OTHER EXPERTS agreed that the government was not incorporating high enough figures in its estimations for future energy use.

“The goal is to have 10% by 2020, but this does not take into account the change in consumption. We will not have the same consumption,” said Dr. Tareq Abu-Hamed, director for renewable energy and energy conservation at the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies, based on Kibbutz Ketura.

Abu-Hamed also criticized the “small amount” of megawatts allocated to solar energy production, particularly in comparison with wind allocations – which received over half of the new allowances. The 460 MW for large solar systems “is nothing,” he argued, also stressing that medium-sized fields should have been given something in addition to its current cap.

“Solar has been severely limited – to a mere few hundred megawatts for each of the available regulatory channels, for at least the next four years,” agreed Arava Power Company CEO Jon Cohen, whose company launched the country’s first medium-sized solar field in June. “Without certainty and continuity, developers will cease to invest further in projects already initiated, and will either move abroad or close up shop. Thousands of potential green megawatts will never make it to the grid.”

Cohen contended that solar supplies at the current quotas will be completely consumed by 2013. But by that same year, he asserted, solar energy prices will also be significantly lower than they are today, and electricity generated by solar methods will be able to be connected to the grid “at a price that benefits the national economy.”

“Win-win solutions do exist. Our policy-makers need to dig a bit deeper, get the hard facts straight, utilize existing global experience and knowledge, all to ensure that the necessary and correct bridging program is formulated and activated by mid-2012,” Cohen said. “Extensive strategic and economic advantages offered the State of Israel by solar energy are there to be exploited. Such an opportunity deserves more than the compromise policies approved by the government at the beginning of this week.”

A spokesman for the national infrastructures minister responded that the ministry had a detailed plan to ensure that enough of an increase in energy efficiency to bring about a 20% decrease in consumption would occur. As part of this plan, the spokesman said, the government has allocated a significant budget of NIS 314 million for 2011-2012 to replace old refrigerators and air conditioners in government offices and to distribute energy-efficient lightbulbs to the public.

Meanwhile, the government can also evaluate how all of the targets are doing during the midpoint year of 2014, by which the ministers hope to be powering 5% of electricity from renewable sources, the spokesman said.

WHILE VOICING complaints similar to Cohen’s about the solar quotas, Abu-Hamed also expressed praise for the 210-MW allocation for biogas and biomass.

“That’s very good – Israel needs that. It’s not for fuel production – it will help a lot to increase the awareness and decrease the garbage, to recycle things,” he said. “You will see a direct impact on the people.”

He added, “I wish that they’d also have some money for regional cooperation – to have joint projects with Jordanians, Palestinians and Egyptians.”

As far as the overall program goes, however, Abu- Hamed said that “it’s good, but not enough.” He doubted that there would be any significant changes over the next few years, but nonetheless expressed hope that the government would achieve its goals.

“It’s not enough to set goals. They also have to create infrastructure,” he said.

Dr. Daniel Farb, CEO of Leviathan Energy Renewables, Ltd., developers of wind, hyrdroelectric and wave turbines, echoed Abu-Hamed’s sentiments.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but a lot of the problem is getting through the bureaucracy and financing,” he said. “It’s one thing to have the allotment, but if the financing is difficult and the government doesn’t help with it, then you’re not going to meet the allotments.”

While Farb’s company mostly markets small wind turbines – which have an unchanged, but also unused quota of 30 MW – he feels that one of the biggest issues innovators and investors in wind power have faced and will continue to face are zoning problems, which can take years to resolve.

“We have people willing to do projects with us on this right now, but it might take two more years and hundreds of thousands of shekels more of zoning applications,” he said.

But despite objections to what he feels are unnecessary amounts of bureaucracy, Farb, like the other experts, felt that Sunday’s renewable energy bill was certainly encouraging, even if not completely satisfying.

“I think the infrastructures minister is doing a fantastic job, and they are really speaking up for the cause of renewable energy,” Farb said. “But certainly we need more of all this.”

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