Global Wind Day, to celebrate the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the world, passed without a peep in Israel. I am often asked, “There isn’t much wind in Israel. Why should I support wind in Israel?” I’d like to provide some answers to that question.
Advantages of wind energy
• First, there IS wind in Israel. A good estimate is several thousand megawatts worth of it. But most people don’t pay attention to it because it is invisible unless it rustles the leaves of trees. The long central mountain range, the coast, the Golan Heights and several areas of the Negev have excellent wind resources. There is actually more wind energy hitting Israel than solar because wind is concentrated solar energy, it can be captured vertically much better than sun, and its capture doesn’t interfere with agriculture.
A variation on the question is, “But we have now found enough gas to last us 40 years!” One response to that is that we live in international markets, and there is no way that the gas it will be saved only for local use. Furthermore, it only helps us put off the day of reckoning. When that day comes, we will have an even harder time fitting in renewable energy that wasn’t part of the planned infrastructure, and our electrical needs will be several times higher. In addition, we need to reverse climate change now.
• Second, wind energy can contribute to the economy. Wind energy was
recently identified as the second-best global growth industry for the
next five years; this can be a great export market for Israel if it is
addressed properly. This means that government money should be allocated
immediately to help Israeli companies enter the sector more strongly
The market for wind energy will only be accelerated by the recent
nuclear disaster in Japan and Germany’s decision to drop nuclear power.
Two of the world’s major economies are thus going green faster than
anticipated. And it is well known that China is accelerating its
development of renewable energy.
An objection might be made to government support of an industry. There
are several answers to that: 1. It works. An evaluation of solar
subsidies in Germany revealed that it created a new industry and
hundreds of thousands of jobs, even though Germany is not very sunny.
2. Every other country supports crucial industries, and Israel already
does it with targeted industries. Why not consider wind in Israel a
3. We are currently in a super cautious investment environment in which
capital markets are not working appropriately and the government needs
to step in temporarily.
Wind energy can contribute to the economy in other ways. It doesn’t
require purchase of fuels from other countries and a loss of foreign
Most of the best wind in Israel is in the periphery, and wind energy
installations can provide an important boost to underprivileged sectors.
All prices are affected by energy costs, and anything that brings basic
costs down assists economic development.
• Third, wind energy makes an important contribution to the grid. What
is the concept of peak power? If a country needs 500 gigawatts most of
the day but 1,000 gigawatts for just a few hours of peak use each
summer, then it needs to build enough power plants to provide the “peak
power” of 1,000 gigawatts. That means huge direct and indirect costs
plus additional pollution to meet the demand that occurs a small
percentage of the time. Many renewables can take up that slack between
standard usage and peak usage at a much lower cost. That is only one
major reason why it is worthwhile for a government to offer subsidies
for renewables: because they save the economy money.
Wind in Israel is a perfect match for the peak-power problem. Because of
the local geography, the wind usually blows from late morning through
the evening in different areas of the country, so it provides a lot of
coverage of consumer needs. Combined with solar, which peaks at midday,
it becomes even more effective in meeting the country’s power needs.
An objection might be raised as to whether wind is costeffective on its
own without a subsidized tariff. The answer in many locations is not
right now. But as soon as installations begin in quantity, prices will
likely drop. In addition, we have to take account now of the big unknown
of energy inflation. We don’t want to wait until oil is more than $200 a
barrel to make our adjustments in crisis mode.
• Fourth, providing wind and other renewable sources of power is a
security issue. What if even a single power plant were disabled for some
reason? Distributed power produced in thousands of different locations
throughout the country is less likely to be knocked out at one time.
This is even more important with the advent of the electric car, now
that the transportation sector is becoming dependent on the supply of
About a year and a half ago, I was the wind-energy expert on a panel held at the Council for Foreign Relations in Washington.
We spent a lot of time discussing the value of creating nodes of power
production that could be isolated from the central grid in the event of a
magnetic-pulse attack from a country like Iran.Objections to wind energy
Question: Israel is a major migratory path for birds. Won’t wind turbines interfere with that?
Answer: In some cases that is true, but only to a minor extent and only
with certain types of turbines. There are certain types of small
vertical-axis turbines that pose absolutely no problem for birds.
Question: Israel is a small country
with a lot of military needs and other land needs. Will wind turbines
interfere with land use, the IAF and with radar?
Answer: There are a few areas that are unlikely to be settled with more
than cows or simple agriculture and are not militarily sensitive. Those
areas should be set aside for placement of higher-output large wind
turbines that require isolation for many reasons. Israel is a small
Small vertical-axis turbines do not interfere with the IAF and radar.
Because of the shortage of land, the emphasis should be on rooftops,
traffic islands and other locations that don’t interfere with
agriculture or land use. The only type of turbine that can come this
close to people is a vertical axis turbine.
Question: We all know that bureaucracy and zoning are a major hurdle in Israel. How can a wind-turbine owner deal with that?
Answer: The turbine needs to be zoned easily, so the turbine needs to be
pleasing to look at and quiet for the people in the building. It is
possible to design such turbines.Possible policy steps
There are some clear policy steps that can help wind-energy companies in
Israel succeed in creating a better world and a better local economy: •
Continuation and expansion of the tariff program under the National
• Rapid allocation of special funds for grants for company development in wind, just like the recent allocation to biofuels.
• Opening up agricultural areas for wind turbines in a responsible way.
Many areas are zoned for agriculture but are unusable for agriculture.
Furthermore, wind turbines can replace trees as windbreakers in agricultural areas.
• National zoning criteria that make approval of rooftop power routine.
Even better would be a formula that requires rooftop power on every new
building. Let it become as routine as rooftop hot water. This allows
free markets to operate to choose the best solution. In one location, it
may be solar, in another wind, and even water in certain skyscrapers.
• The best way for the government to get mileage for money invested in
the sector would be loan guarantees, which leverage the amount of
capital available, for projects, research and development, demonstration
projects and manufacturing. Just as the Chief Scientist’s Office
program has paid for itself many times over for a variety of technology
companies, such a program would likely be successful. In this case,
however, to speed development and to deal with the fact that there is a
temporary shortage of capital, financing should be guaranteed up to 100
percent of a project, whether it for power or research.
• Provide an additional allocation of subsidized renewable energy from
any source that gives additional incentives to Israeli-manufactured
goods. Ontario, Canada, has already enacted such a program to benefit
With these suggestions n mind, Israel can catch up to the countries that
are leaders in the wind industry and reverse the shame of being one of
the laggards in the percentage of renewable energy in the developed
world. It would make sense for Israel to be a leader in wind technology
and its implementation.Dr. Daniel Farb is the founder and
chairman of the Leviathan Energy group of companies, which includes two
wind companies that won second and third place in a contest for the best
clean technologies in Israel, a hydroelectric company that received the
Eureka label from the EU and the Israeli Chief Scientist’s Office, and
five others. Leviathan Energy is a member of the Israeli Association of
Renewable Energy and the I-Consortium.
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