Int’l analysts impressed with Israeli cleantech potential

US expert: We must decouple energy use and carbon emissions from economic development around the world.

air pollution 298 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
air pollution 298 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel has many of the building blocks for a greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategy, and to become a world leader in clean technologies, and now is the time to get quick-start solutions off the ground, three international experts told the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on Wednesday.
“The McKinsey Report is a very good framework for solutions. Our only criticism is that we think much more is possible than the goals set out by the report,” Bracken Hendricks, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington told the committee. Hendricks was an adviser to vice president Al Gore during the Clinton administration and an adviser to US President Barack Obama helping to craft his environmental policy.
Traditionally, “increasing population growth and increasing GDP lead to more energy use; now we can decouple energy use and carbon from economic development,” Hendricks declared. That is the challenge of a green economy, he added.
Hendricks, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Senior Researcher Dr. Malte Schneider and National Commission on Energy Policy Policy Director Joe Kruger were invited by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev professor Alon Tal to come to Israel and critique the McKinsey Report.
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan commissioned McKinsey & Company last year to map Israel’s emissions sources and provide technological and behavioral recommendations for greenhouse gas reduction, as the global management consulting firm has done for many other countries.
The three visitors toured the country and met with power plant managers, NGOs and others on Monday. A full-day session was held at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba on Tuesday and they came to the Knesset on Wednesday.
Kruger was a longtime official at the US Environmental Protection Agency as well as a lead author of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report (2007). Schneider has consulted for major European corporations as well as the UN.
Kruger had advice for Israel.
“The voluntary greenhouse gas reporting registry which Israel has proposed is a great tool. The next step is to make it mandatory. We just did that in the US and this is the first year of reporting.
“A mandatory registry has two advantages. First, it helps make policy by mapping out emissions sources. Second, it’s good for companies. Often this is the first time they’ve done such a thing and they discover lots of inefficiencies they can correct to save money,” he said.
Shuli Nezer, head of the Environmental Protection Ministry’s Air Quality and Climate Change Branch, told the MKs the voluntary registry would be launched on July 1.
Kruger also recommended instituting a carbon tax, which he said has become a topic of international discussion, even in China.
A carbon tax “shows that pollution isn’t free, it’s a production cost. The tax also creates incentives for cleaner energy,” he said. The revenues could either be used to reduce other taxes or be reinvested in clean energy, he said.
Schneider got even more specific, offering five proposals.
“First, expanding the Ashkelon coal-fired power plant will take away momentum. If you lock into a coal plant, then you will never transfer to a low carbon economy,” he said. The Israel Electric Corporation’s Project D has been a hot topic of debate from ministers on down.
“Second, you need to get clean energy projects off the ground. You need to build investor confidence. To do that, you need to lift the caps on feed-in tariffs, which have been capped at somewhat arbitrary levels,” he said.
Yosef Abramowitz, president of the Arava Power Company, warned that unless those caps were lifted, the solar power industry was in danger of collapse in the very near future.
Schneider continued, “Third, start building a smart grid to link all the elements together. There’s no need to worry about intermittent power from solar energy and storage problems – you are still a long way away those issues,” the German researcher suggested. Germany has built the largest solar market in the world.
“Fourth, energy efficiency is a must, and fifth is the Israeli potential for innovation. You have all the components here to build a Silicon Valley of clean technologies; you just need to bring them together,” he concluded.
After the meeting, Schneider told The Jerusalem Post he was struck byhow much geopolitical and security concerns affected Israel’s emissionsreductions strategies.
“You can’t connect to neighboring countries’ grids to solve the problemof intermittent power from renewable energy, and power plants aretargets for missiles,” he said.
The three experts had recommended renewable energy as a way to increase energy security by decentralizing energy production.
Schneider had a parting comment.
“In Europe, we’re seriously looking into producing solar energy inNorth Africa, which is very politically unstable, and transporting itto Europe. In Israel, they don’t seem to be able to produce solarenergy in their own backyard.”