The Negev is key to our renewable energy future

While individuals have a responsibility to be energy-aware, they’re not the only culprits of climate concerns.

Rotating parabolic mirrors at the Negev Energy thermo-solar power plant  (photo credit: EYTAN HALON)
Rotating parabolic mirrors at the Negev Energy thermo-solar power plant
(photo credit: EYTAN HALON)
Good news: Solar energy has finally become a viable powerhouse in Israel’s energy production industry. The Finance and Energy ministries, the Israel Land Authority and the Public Utilities Authority recently announced that Dimona, a small city in the Negev Desert has been chosen to house the nation’s largest single-output solar plant. It hopes to produce a respectable percentage of the national energy requirements by 2030.
Usually, initiatives to increase solar production have landed on individuals rather than governments or large corporations. Experts have advocated for individual households to save money and be environmentally responsible by being energy conscious around the home, especially in chilly winter months when energy demand tends to peak. While individuals have a responsibility to be energy-aware, they’re not the only culprits of climate concerns.
Just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. Renewable energy initiatives may rely on governments, like Israel, if they are to become effective.
Solar is slowly growing around the world
According to this year’s annual World Energy Outlook report, solar energy is expected to overtake coal as the largest means of energy production across the globe. Over the next decade, renewable energy will make up more than 80% of new power generation. For Israeli companies, the news is another reminder of how well-positioned the country is to lead this renewable power revolution.
The World Energy Outlook report couldn’t come at a better (or rather worse) time. The fossil fuel industry is widely accepted as the leading cause of global climate change. Rather than relay all of the anxiety about the state of the environment, let’s simply say that something needs to be done, and fast.
Thankfully, clean energy alternatives like solar have finally found a solid foothold in the energy industry. It’s reported that coal’s share of the energy supply might dip below 20% by 2040. This would be the lowest it will have been since before the Industrial Revolution. As more companies switch to renewable energy sources, we’ll slowly begin to see environmental improvements throughout the world.
Why Israel is focused on solar
Since the sun is a clean, pure energy source, it’s a much more environmentally friendly option compared to fossil fuels, on which Israel is now dependent. Currently, almost all of Israel’s energy production is from natural gas and coal, with renewables accounting for only around 7% of Israel’s electricity.
With around 60% of Israel being large areas of desert, it’s natural for the Negev Desert and its surrounding areas to be used for solar farms. And since Israel’s geographic latitude of approximately 30 degrees North, it’s not surprising that the sun-rich country has focused on solar as its renewable energy of choice.
Replacing Israel’s and the world’s dependence on fossil fuels for renewable energy sources like solar energy is not only helpful to the environment but directly impacts lives. Up to seven million people die every year from respiratory diseases, lung cancer and heart ailments, much of it due to pollution from power plant emissions. In Israel, that number is around 2,500. Switching to solar power and other types of renewable energy can help save lives.
Israel’s key position in the renewable energy fight
By placing solar farms throughout the Negev desert – an area known for its blistering sun throughout the year – Israel and surrounding countries would be able to provide solar energy to at least 90% of the country.
“Although it is sparsely inhabited, there is not enough space for all the needed solar farms. This means that sustainable peace agreements would need to be cemented with Israel’s neighbors,” said Professor emeritus David Faiman in an article for Brink News. “There are huge desert areas in Egypt and Jordan, both of which have had peace treaties with Israel for decades.” 
While multi-national cooperation might take a while, Israel has already set plans in motion to make solar a larger focus in its overall energy plan. In June, the Israeli government announced an ambitious plan to increase the country’s reliance on renewable energy by producing 15 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2030. This is a large ask for Israel’s energy industry. According to the Renewable Energy Agency, Israel had only accumulated 1.19 gigawatts of solar capacity in 2019.
The bottom line
Renewable energy options like solar energy are the future for individual households, enterprise-level corporations, and everyone in between. Israel is primed to become the leader in solar energy production. And while the country is making real headway in the Negev Desert, it will take years if not decades to create a system that can be replicated on a large scale and in areas of the world less situated for solar. For now, Israel’s work in the Negev Desert is being closely watched by environmentalists and politicians alike.
The author has written for Inc. and Outside magazines and currently works as a copywriter, guest blogger and freelance journalist.