Israel missing out on bargain prices for solar energy, say experts

Israel missing out on bargain prices for solar energy, say experts

Solar panels for photovoltaic arrays, made by companies like Suntech, are significantly less expensive now

Part of the Ketura Sun Project (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Part of the Ketura Sun Project (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Solar power that helps feed the Israeli electricity grid comes to us largely via a Chinese company, Suntech, which is the world’s largest producer of solar panels. The company announced in a statement this week that it has produced over half the photovoltaic panels in use in Israel, and celebrated the installation of new equipment that brings PV production by its panels to a milestone of 100 megawatts.

And, experts say, with panel prices low, now is the time to increase that amount dramatically.

Suntech PV panels are sold by several importers, the largest being Enerpoint Israel (formerly Friendly Energy). According to Enerpoint Israel CEO Danny Denan, “It is no surprise that Suntech has the largest market share amongst solar panel providers operating in Israel. Suntech’s innovative solar technology is ideal for Israel’s sunny climate, and fits customers’ needs. ”

Suntech PV panels already installed in Israel can produce up to 100 megawatts of electricity for the Israeli grid at one time, the company said. It’s a drop in the bucket of the 12,000 or so megawatts that the Israel Electric Company can produce at one time. Suntech would very much like to install more PV panels, but government regulations on how much photovoltaic electricity can be installed each year prevents the company from deploying more.

There is a limit of 30 megawatts on additional annual production of electricity from small-scale PV systems, stemming from government decisions in 2009, and amended in 2011, that set specific goals for production of electricity from three different alternative sources — solar, wind, and biomass. The decisions set the goal of producing 10 percent of Israel’s peak electricity usage (estimated to be some 1,500 megawatts) by 2014. Four hundred of those megawatts are expected to come from solar farms in the Negev, and 110 megawatts will be provided by rooftop PV systems (with 30 megawatts “released” each year).

According to some industry observers, however, now would be the time to make a major commitment to PV. Prices for PV panels are very low right now, the result of what amounted to a price war between manufacturers of the panels. The low prices — which have fallen by as much as half in the past year, according to Bloomberg News — won’t last forever, and Israel would do well to make a “great leap forward” and significantly expand its PV program right now. “Now, the market is flooded with panels, and the leading Chinese solar manufacturers are overextended financially,” says Bloomberg. Anybody — or any country — interested in PV should be making its move now, before the inevitable shakeout that is likely to drive some companies out of business.

Suntech says its panels are the ones the Israeli market should be considering, considering the company’s experience in the local market. “We are very proud to accomplish this milestone in the Israeli market,” said Ron Shen, vice president of Suntech Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa (APMEA). For example, he said, Suntech’s solar panels power Israel’s largest solar field, the 4.95MW Ketura Sun project at Kibbutz Ketura in the Negev.

“Since we started business here in year 2008, Suntech has been committed to the ongoing development of the Israeli solar market and we opened an office in Tel Aviv last year to better support our local customers,” Shen added. “With high solar irradiation and a growing demand for clean electricity, Israel is, and will continue to be, a growth market for solar.”

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