Progress, frustration at TA renewable energy conference

Wind energy expert bemoans lack of greater interest; IEC representative: We can't count on alternative energy.

Wind Energy 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Wind Energy 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Traditional and alternative energy specialists convened in Tel Aviv on Thursday to discuss how to integrate renewable energy into the Israeli market. Featuring speakers from the public and private sector, the annual conference sponsored by The Israeli Institute of Energy and Environment and the Renewable Energy Companies Union of Israel took a wide-ranging look at the issues surrounding alternative energy. Dr. Ilan Suleiman, deputy head of the Public Utility Authority - Electricity (PUA) gave a brief update regarding tariffs for solar and wind energy. Suleiman said they were looking at a feed-in tariff of NIS 1.6 per kilowatt hour for medium sized solar power fields from 50KW to 5 MW. Several companies have been eagerly awaiting this specific tariff to begin planning massive solar energy fields in the Negev and Arava. Suleiman said the tariff would be released for public comments in the "coming days." PUA has also been working on a tariff for wind energy, he said. It would be a similar regulatory set-up to solar power and they hoped to get it off the ground in the first quarter of 2009. However, the tariff was not at all clear yet and there might even be different levels of tariffs, Suleiman said. Dr. Eli Ben-Dov bitterly complained about Israel's obsession with solar energy at the expense of wind energy. Ben-Dov started measuring wind speeds all over Israel for the Israel Electric Company (IEC) in 1980. After a career with the company, he moved to the private sector and set about trying to build wind farms. However, using a metaphor of Noah trying to build an ark in the modern regulatory age, he contended that Israeli red tape had stifled what could be the serious potential of wind power to generate megawatts of electricity all over the country. After 30 years of trying, just six MW are produced from wind in Israel, he lamented. Over and above the introduction of renewable energy, the IEC has to be able to plan for it and utilize it. IEC Planning Branch head Dr. David Elmakias had some pointed things to say about the drawbacks of alternative energy. Even if you produced all the power you wanted from solar and wind energy, it would still not be as reliable as coal or natural gas, because it is not constant, he said. Without a storage mechanism, the IEC cannot count on it as a reliable source and therefore has to factor in backups and reserves to compensate, he added. Elmakias said there would be no other option but to build either another coal or a nuclear power station to meet Israel's rapidly increasing energy demands. However, he added the company was investing $1.5b. over the next decade to install technology which would reduce emissions from coal plants very significantly. "Sulfur emissions will be reduced by 70 percent and we will get to very low levels of emissions from the noxes (pollutants) as well," he told the packed conference hall at the Land of Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. Elmakias also mentioned that they were in the process of planning the energy market for the next 30-50 years. Such long term planning is unusual in Israel and contrasts sharply with the utter lack of long term planning which plagues another essential economy in Israel - water. One of the highlights of the conference was an award presented to the "father of Israeli solar energy," Dr. Harry Zvi Tabor. In 1949, David Ben-Gurion sent his personal aide to England to recruit the young British scientist. Tabor then went on to make two breakthroughs in solar panels which paved the way for today's industry. He also built an electric car in the mid-1970s before anyone had begun thinking about the potential of such types of vehicles. Tabor's breakthroughs created the solar water heating market in Israel. In 1980, the government passed a law requiring all new buildings to be outfitted with the solar boilers. A whopping 4% of Israel's energy is saved through this single invention. American Jewish Congress Israel Director Daniel Grossman presented the lifetime achievement award to Tabor in the presence of Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra. After receiving the award, Tabor, still active and sharp at 91, said, "We cannot miss the opportunity to eliminate our reliance on oil and take the plunge towards renewable energy." Rounding out the conference from the academic and private sectors, Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center Director Prof. David Faiman gave a fascinating analysis of exactly how much alternative energy would need to be produced merely to keep fossil fuel use at current levels. According to the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev professor and entrepreneur's calculation, demand grows by two billion kilowatt hours (two million MW) per year. Therefore, alternative energy must generate that number each year just to freeze fossil fuel use. Current government goals come nowhere near that number. Even by 2020, alternative energy goals are in the thousands of megawatts rather than millions. Faiman also championed concentrator photovoltaics (PV) as the technology of the future. Several Israeli companies, Zenith Power and MST, have begun working on technology developed by Faiman and others at the Solar Energy Center. Concentrator PV concentrates the sun's rays so that when it hits the solar panel it is much more intense and thus produces much more electricity. MST head Dov Raviv explained that his goal was to take over the Israeli energy market with their technology and with EnStore's storage systems. He outlined an extremely bold plan to produce 100 billion kilowatt hours within 15-30 years. He said the cost would be $22b. over 20 years. Raviv is perhaps better known as the father of the Arrow missile system.