Environment ministry sets 40% renewable power production goal by 2030

Roadmap calls for more ambitious solar energy targets, more focus away from fossil fuels. Energy Ministry reviewing whether targets can be increased for UN COP27 confab in Egypt

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Solar panels. (lovelyday12, iStock at Getty Images)
Solar panels. (lovelyday12, iStock at Getty Images)

The Environmental Protection Ministry on Tuesday released a roadmap to enable Israel to generate 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, while saving the economy around NIS 6 billion ($1.85 million) by the decade’s end.

The government’s current target is 30%, in relation to 2015, a goal that will require providing 17 gigawatts of renewable energy infrastructure and 3.5 gigawatts of storage.

At present, with just eight years to go, renewable sources generate just 3.5 gigawatts of electricity and renewable energy storage capacity for approved facilities will max out at only 1.5 gigawatts.

The map builds on previous research carried out within the ministry, which estimates that 42% of electricity could be generated from renewables, mainly solar energy, by 2030.

The new document lists some of the economic, regulatory, and statutory obstacles that need to be overcome to hit 40%, and calls on the government to change the priorities for extending the electricity grid.

Solar plates on the roof of a cowshed in the Jezreel Valley, northern Israel, on February 18, 2017. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The plan calls for the government to place more emphasis on renewable resources. It also urges reforms to allow suppliers of renewable energy to compete directly with fossil fuel suppliers on bids for contracts.

The government must set official targets for renewable energy storage, it adds.

Electricity generation accounts for 42% of Israel’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the document. Planners expect that figure to rise as more transportation and industry is electrified.

Installing 18 to 23 gigawatts of solar panels along with 5.5 gigawatts of storage capacity, for which the technology already exists, would enable the country to reach around 40% renewables, neutralizing the need for any new gas-powered stations beyond those already approved by the government, the document says.

Of this, 24 gigawatts could be reached by putting solar panels in built-up places already used for something else, such as the roofs and facades of buildings, industrial areas, parking lots, roads, and water bodies.

Solar panels floating on a reservoir on the Golan Heights, near to Kibbutz Shamir, in northern Israel. (Courtesy: Golan Solar)

Another 2 gigawatts would come from installing solar panels over fields of shade-tolerant crops, something that is being tested and has shown promise so far.

This strategy would save up to NIS 5.71 billion ($1.76 billion) by 2030 in capital investments, maintenance, fuels, and external costs — indirect costs to the environment and public health from using fossil fuels such as gas, the document calculates.

The energy and environmental protection ministry have been at loggerheads for years over how best to guarantee energy security for the country while also cutting global warming emissions.

A key point of contention is how best to provide energy when the sun isn’t shining — by storing and releasing renewable energy, or by using gas-fired power stations.

The more conservative Energy Ministry responded that it sets the policy for the production of electricity from renewable energies “in accordance with a set of considerations, including energy security, emissions reductions, maintenance of electricity prices, and more.”

It said it welcomes “the adoption of diverse positions,” and policy decisions would be made by the energy minister, currently Karine Elharrar, the Electricity Authority head and others.

Asked whether the Energy Ministry would submit improved targets (known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs) to the UN COP 27 conference in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, later this year, a spokeswoman said that together with the Electricity Authority, the ministry was carrying out a thorough professional review of the issue.

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