Some wealthy towns lag behind poorer ones in using solar energy potential – index

Energy Ministry launches online ranking system, which focuses on dual-use systems where panels are added to existing facilities

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

The Knesset cut a ribbon for new solar panels on March 29, 2015. But the Jerusalem Municipality gets poor marks for solar provision on existing facilities according to an index of local authorities launched on August 8, 2023. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
The Knesset cut a ribbon for new solar panels on March 29, 2015. But the Jerusalem Municipality gets poor marks for solar provision on existing facilities according to an index of local authorities launched on August 8, 2023. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The Energy Ministry on Tuesday launched an online index that will gauge how well local authorities are utilizing their potential for dual-use renewable energy generation systems.

Dual-use refers to the installation of solar panels on facilities that already exist, such as buildings, reservoirs, parking lots, traffic junctions and even cemeteries. It makes more efficient use of the country’s limited land than large solar fields and brings energy production closer to its consumption while saving money and lowering dependence on energy providers.

The index uses data from the end of 2022 and is due to be updated annually. It shows that big cities are lagging far behind in installing dual-use solar facilities, due in part to various bureaucratic hurdles and the perception that it’s not financially worthwhile.

Haifa has realized 10% of its potential, Jerusalem 5%, and Tel Aviv-Jaffa just 3%, according to the index.

The ranking also reveals, perhaps surprisingly, that some of the more affluent municipalities are not performing as well as their poorer neighbors.

The southern towns of Meitar and Lehavim, which fall in the wealthiest two deciles, are meeting only 35% and 23% of their solar energy potential, respectively. The similarly wealthy locales of Kochav Yair, Omer, Savyon, and Kfar Shmaryahu reached just 17%, 15%, 5%, and 1% respectively of their solar energy potential.

An aerial view of Kfar Shmaryahu, north of Tel Aviv, June 12, 2009. (Kobi Gideon / FLASH90)

By contrast, many poorer authorities have utilized at least 30% of their potential, among them northern Beit She’an (40%), Sderot in the south (38%), Kiryat Shmona in the north (36%), Julis, an Arab town in the western Galilee (33%), Netivot in the south (32%), Mitzpe Ramon in the south (30%) and the central town of Bnei Ayish (32%). In many cases, these less wealthy towns have managed to cover substantial amounts of roofs on industrial and public buildings with solar panels.

Coming in at first place on the index, though, was the sparsely populated Central Arava Regional Council in southern Israel. By the end of 2022, it had installed 114% of its potential. Ron Eifer, head of the Energy Ministry’s sustainable energy division, told a press briefing that assumptions made about potential, while based on real information, were “not an exact science.”

Screenshot of the Energy Ministry’s new dual-use solar index. (Energy Ministry)

The new index is based on mapping carried out by the Electricity Authority in 2020.

It assumes that 11.764 megawatts of solar energy can potentially be generated via dual-use facilities. Of this, panels producing 2.232 megawatts — 19% of the potential — have already been installed nationwide.

The index provides detailed information for each authority on the potential for solar production, the supply being generated in practice, what this represents as a percentage of the potential and current installed supply — both as a percentage of the authority’s land and per capita.

Data on dual-use potential and provision in councils covering West Bank settlements has yet to be completed.

Speaking at a recent press conference, Ron Eifer from the Energy Ministry said local authorities are “thirsty” to know what their neighbors are doing to boost their solar energy use and that the new index will serve as a tool to help both them and their residents improve their dual-use potential.

Israel is primarily dependent upon the sun for its renewable energy, and the government has pledged to generate 30% of energy from renewable sources by 2030. But last year, Israel produced an annual average of just over 10% of its energy from renewables.

Obstacles to installing solar energy facilities include red tape, a lack of coordination between government bodies involved, and a shortage of space on the electricity grid, which will take years and a large amount of money to resolve.

Eifer said the Energy Ministry has removed many of the barriers. For example, covering bodies of water bodies with floating panels will no longer require a building permit, and buildings above a certain size will henceforth be required to install renewable energy storage rather than backup generators that run on fossil fuels. He said that final regulations were being put together for agrivoltaic systems, which combine solar energy production with crop cultivation.

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