Will Israel's energy future be primarily solar power?

"From the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, this is the first region in the world to have achieved 100% daytime solar power."

The solar field at Kibbutz Ketura. (photo credit: LINDA GRADSTEIN)
The solar field at Kibbutz Ketura.
(photo credit: LINDA GRADSTEIN)
The field of blue solar panels, tilted toward the sun, seems to go on and on. Set in the date plantation of Kibbutz Ketura across Road 90, the field of more than 140,000 solar panels produces 40 megawatts of electricity. There are even self-cleaning robots to clean the dust off the PV panels every night.
“From the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, this is the first region in the world to have achieved 100% daytime solar power,” Yosef Abramowitz, co-founder of the solar industry in Israel and CEO of Energiya Global, which develops solar and wind in Africa, told The Jerusalem Post. “It’s the proof of concept for the entire climate movement, the [US] Biden-Harris administration, and for what Israel’s policy needs to be.”
The solar field is owned jointly by EDF and Arava Power, a company that Abramowitz co-founded. The solar field, along with another one on Kibbutz Ketura itself, is producing enough energy to power all of Eilat and the kibbutzim in the region, with their 65,000 residents. The population of the area reaches 100,000 when hotels are full. And there is still electricity left over, and in fact, the extra electricity from these solar fields is being sent via the electricity grid back up north.
Israel has set a goal of using 30% renewable energy, which means primarily solar power, by 2030. That is one of the most ambitious targets in the world. Climate experts say the goal is achievable, but it will not be easy.
“The huge problem that doesn’t help us is the electricity grid,” Dorit Bennet, CEO of Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative, told the Post. “The grid is built to have a few sources, but now we’re having hundreds of thousands of sources. We have to change the parameters of the grid.”
That is not the only thing that needs to change for Israel to move forward with more solar power, Abramowitz says. Right now, individuals with private homes can install solar panels on their roof and sell the electricity to the electric company. In the next five to 10 years, they can earn back the investment and start making a profit. The problem, however, is that in buildings with apartments – the majority of cities’ housing – it is more difficult to install solar panels.
“In high-rise buildings, the area of the roof is very small and there are a lot of things on the roof like air conditioners and solar heaters for hot water,” Netanel Peled, a consultant on environmental building explained to the Post. “The area that is left is relatively small. The builder doesn’t want to invest in solar panels, as he will not be the one benefiting from them.”
Peled, along with Abramowitz and Bennet, say that the government should invest more in renewable energy than in natural gas. According to the government, Israel has more than six trillion cubic feet of natural gas, ranking 45th in the world, and, in partnership with Noble Energy, has brought two large fields online in the past few years.
Amir Foster, executive director of The Association of Oil and Gas Exploration Industries in Israel, says that natural gas is good for both the environment and the economy in Israel. By 2025, Israel is set to generate all electricity from either natural gas or solar power, and will end its use of coal, which is highly polluting.
In 2019, he says, the plant in Hadera that runs on coal had more than eight times the pollution of all of the industry in Haifa. “If we stop the use of coal and go to natural gas, it’s like taking two-thirds of all the cars in Israel off the road from a greenhouse gas perspective,” he told the Post. “Natural gas is also the most economic source for the Israeli economy because it adds a lot of taxes to the Israeli economy.”
He said that in terms of air quality, natural gas is much closer to solar power than other fossil fuels. When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, he says, natural gas is somewhere between coal and solar power. He said that Israel could stop using coal even earlier than the 2025 target.
Solar power advocates say the government is making a mistake by investing so much money in natural gas, and that Israel would be better off in the long run investing more in solar energy, and less in natural gas.
Foster, of the natural gas industry, says that eventually it is possible that Israel will move to a majority of solar power. But for at least the next 20 years, he says, the state will need natural gas in addition to solar power.
“The world needs a large quantity of gas for the next 20-30 years and after that we do not know,” he said. “In any case, more than 90% of the power generation capacity Israel is going to build until the end of the decade is renewables. 
We are going in a direction which is good for the country.”
There is a special connection between solar power and Independence Day, Abramowitz says.
“Theodor Herzl imagined that the future state of the Jews was going to be carbon neutral,” he said. “He didn’t use that term, but he said it should be run on hydro-electric power. He envisioned an electric fast train to Tiberias, and there should not be traffic jams because there would be electric cable cars in the skies over the cities. He said the state would produce enough electricity to power the state and to share with all our Arab neighbors in peace.”