Officials tell worried Israelis solar panels better than generators in event of war

Authorities react to panic buying of generators by citizens who fear war with Hezbollah could leave them in the dark; expert says solar energy a better solution for national grid too

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Solar panels on the roof of a private homeon n Aug 13 , 2009. (Chen Leopold / Flash 90)
Solar panels on the roof of a private homeon n Aug 13 , 2009. (Chen Leopold / Flash 90)

Don’t buy a generator to supply electricity in the event of war; choose solar panels and a power storage facility instead, officials said as Hebrew media reported on panic buying.

That was the joint message of the directors general of the Energy and Environmental Protection ministries, speaking last week at the Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy conference in the southern port city.

Widespread damage to power infrastructure was sustained on October 7 when Hamas terrorists rained rockets down on the Gaza border communities and invaded Israel in their thousands, killing 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and kidnapping 253 to the Gaza Strip.

Some of those communities — albeit largely evacuated — were without power for weeks.

Amid concern that the daily skirmishes between the IDF and the Iran-backed terror organization Hezbollah on the northern border could also escalate into full-blown war, many Israelis are reportedly buying generators.

These concerns were highlighted Monday, when Hezbollah fired a barrage of rockets at northern Israel, resulting in damage that knocked out power in several towns.

“If you want energy security, don’t buy generators,” the Environment Ministry’s director general, Guy Samet, told the conference on Thursday.

“You won’t use it for years. You’ll need fuel [in the event of a war] and you won’t [necessarily] find it. Go for a solar system that will provide energy to your home,” he said.

He added that despite the extensive damage to the electricity grid inside the Gaza Strip, due to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, Gazans were in many cases still managing to supply themselves with power through solar panels.

A man takes a solar panel from a mosque destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, on October 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Yousef Masoud)

Energy Ministry Director Yossi Dayan, agreed, adding that solar panels made more economic sense than fuel-run generators.

Eitan Parnass, head of the Green Energy Association of Israel, which pushes for renewables, told The Times of Israel that it was possible to register at the Israel Electric Corporation for a green track and get a permit for a 15-kilowatt system in a couple of weeks. Installation could be carried out quickly by any number of companies, and there were plenty of solar panels and batteries in stock.

The green track was open to owners of detached houses and apartment owners in residential buildings. However, in the latter case, the power would serve common areas such as the stairwell.

While the Green Energy Association does not deal with prices, Parnass estimated that such a solar system would pay for itself in seven to eight years. This is because the Israel Electric Corporation pays the owner of the panels for surplus energy that goes into the national grid.

Installing a solar storage system, for, say, 20 kilowatts, would rack up the price, however. The IEC currently does not pay for energy directed to the grid from a solar battery, but Parnass said he expected this to change in the coming weeks.

Installing solar panels on a roof. (Elenathewise, iStock at Getty Images)

Dov Khenin, a former Knesset lawmaker who chairs the President’s Climate Forum, told the Eilat confab a shift to home solar energy was also preferable on a national level.

Khenin said that the state’s dependence on natural gas and other fossil fuels had been shown to be misguided, while the lack of an emergency energy plan was a “huge, inconceivable failure.”

Like many others at the conference, he drew attention to the fact that Israel only has three gas wells and associated processing facilities in the Mediterranean, saying they were far more vulnerable to enemy attack than would be tens of thousands of solar panels across the country.

The government saw coal as an alternative to gas, he continued, adding that it too was vulnerable. He recalled how a year ago, part of the pier at the Rutenberg power plant near Ashkelon was destroyed after a crane collapsed in high winds, killing Nir Dekel, an Israel Electric Corporation worker.

A view of a crane that collapsed in the sea near Ashkelon, March 14, 2023. (Flash90)

“The repair takes ages,” Khenin continued, describing how hundreds of trucks loaded with coal had to be driven between central coastal Hadera, where the Orot Rabin power plant is located, to Ashkelon to keep the station going.

“We bring oil from Azerbaijan through a pipe that passes through Turkey — that’s problematic,” he went on.

Khenin, who served in the Knesset with the predominantly Arab Joint List, said that while he supported a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “it might not happen, and we have to plan accordingly, which we’re not.”

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