Ministry unveils program to make Israeli economy more energy efficient

With its NIS 1 billion price tag, the proposal is unlikely to see the light of day until the government agrees to pass a long-delayed state budget

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

An electric Renault vehicle charges in Ramat Hasharon, Israel. February, 7 2010. (Roni Schutzer/Flash90/Maariv Out)
An electric Renault vehicle charges in Ramat Hasharon, Israel. February, 7 2010. (Roni Schutzer/Flash90/Maariv Out)

The Energy Ministry on Monday unveiled a raft of proposals with a NIS 1 billion ($300 million) price tag to make the Israeli economy more energy efficient over the next 10 years.

Beyond reducing emissions, officials said, the program would help sustainable recovery and economic acceleration following the coronavirus crisis. With the right investment, they told a press conference, it could create 10,700 new jobs in energy efficiency initiatives by 2025, with an additional 4,000 jobs through plans to get local authorities to cover their buildings’ roofs with solar panels and reach 80 percent renewable energy capacity.

But in light of the government’s inability to pass a state budget for this year, let alone 2021, as the result of ongoing political infighting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, it remains unclear when full implementation can begin.

The package, which is an updated version of an efficiency program issued in 2017, took a year to put together, the ministry’s Director-General Udi Adiri said. The process saw cooperation with other government ministries and a wide range of stakeholders, including environmental organizations brought together for the purpose by the not-for-profit group Adam Teva V’Din, he added.

Adam Teva V’Din praised the ministry, saying moves to increase renewable energy had led to improvements in energy production. But, it lamented, Israel still lags behind when it comes to efficient energy consumption.

Illustrative: Solar panels in the desert near Eilat, Israel. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

At present, the biggest consumer of energy — including electricity — is transport (43%), followed by buildings of all kinds (28%), industry (22%) and other sources (7%).

The program’s interim aim is to make the economy 11% more energy efficient by 2025 compared with a 2015 baseline, and 18% more by 2030.

Reaching this goal, the ministry calculates, will translate into savings of a total of 16.5 terawatt hours of energy by 2030.

A terawatt hour (TWh) is a unit of energy equal to outputting one trillion watts for one hour. During the current year the expectation is that Israel will be using 170 TWhs of energy. If nothing is done to save energy, this figure is predicted to reach more than 210.5 TWhs of energy by 2030. However, if the steps outlined in the document are taken, it will only reach 194 TWh.

The moves are also calculated to reduce by some six million tons (7.5%) the total Israeli-produced greenhouse gases estimated to reach the atmosphere in 2030.

Illustrative: Construction in Ashdod, March 22, 2013. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

The steps needed to achieve these goals include ensuring that imported electrical products are more energy-efficient, and integrating energy ratings into new buildings and requiring contractors, starting next year, to publish them when they sell. This latter step dovetails into a National Planning and Building Council committee decision earlier this year to turn green building codes from voluntary to compulsory starting next July.

The proposals also include requiring companies with emissions permits to install energy management systems; making transportation more energy-efficient by moving to electric vehicles; and a possible move to introduce energy efficiency ratings for imported tires.

Egged’s new electric buses at their charging station in Jerusalem during the launching ceremony, on September 3, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The ministry is currently consulting the public about whether it should continue to oblige contractors to install gas supply systems which can be used for cooking, heating and heating water — given alternative electricity-based technologies such as air conditioners, heat pumps and electric stoves.

The domestic gas companies are fighting back with plans to fund installation of gas-based systems in new construction out of their own pockets, according to the Calcalist business daily. They will also be launching a campaign to explain the benefits of gas over electricity, which can be subject to power cuts.

Energy Ministry Director General Udi Adiri (screen capture: YouTube)

On the potential for new jobs, Adiri quoted research published in July by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that showed how investing in energy efficiency could contribute to economic acceleration and boost employment in the electricity, transport, construction, industry and fuel sectors.

The ministry wants the government to approve the new plan, Adiri said, adding that the program would be ready as soon as a state budget was passed. “These are things that can be implemented a month after a decision is taken,” he pledged.

NIS 1 billion price tag

The program calls for the budgeting of NIS 700 million ($208 million) between next year and 2025 for an energy efficiency grants fund and a further NIS 300 million ($89 million) over the same period to fund projects in other ministries.

Noting the success of a loan fund that the ministry set up together with the national lottery to encourage local authorities to move to renewable energy, the proposal calls for a similar loan fund to be established with government cash.

Electricity-generating solar panels. (Danny Shechtman)

“We can’t not act,” Adiri said. “In my experience, when there’s a good program that’s widely accepted, it will be implemented in the end. We are negotiating with the Finance Ministry but will not be able to secure funding for the program until there’s a state budget.”

He added that some money had been provided in September when the government approved spending NIS 11 billion ($3.23 billion) on a range of urgent needs.

Some of the program’s elements have already been publicized, among them a framework to advance energy-efficient construction, published in October, and a decision to increase the government’s target for renewable energy by 2030 from 17% to 30%.

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