Comptroller slams Israel's green energy failure

Air pollution  photo: Reuters

Targets for power production from renewable resources are not being met, while the Transport Ministry has failed to curb private car use.

A few months ago, Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz declared that Israel was becoming a world leader in solar energy, and that within a decade we would produce 30% of the electricity we use from pure Israeli sunlight. The new targets that Steinitz announced were an upgrade of the modest targets to which Israel committed under the Paris Agreement, in particular the target for production of electricity from renewable sources, which stood at just 17% by 2030. The State Comptroller, however, finds that Israel is failing to meet even the earlier target, is not making adequate progress on renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions, and has no master plan for the power industry.

At the end of 2019, Israel produced just 5% of its electricity from renewable sources, which compares with an intermediate target of 10%. In 2020, Israel was supposed to become 20% more energy efficient; in fact just 7.5% was achieved. About half of all government ministries and local authorities failed to report to the Ministry of Energy on their power consumption and energy efficiency measures as required by law.

The achievement on reducing travel in private vehicles is also dismal. A target was set of a 20% reduction in travel in private vehicles by 2030 in comparison with 2015. In fact, by 2018 such travel had actually grown by 15%, while travel on public transport grew by only 2%. Despite the fact that a switch to public transport could benefit the Israeli economy by an estimated NIS 149 billion annually, 60% of workers travel to work in private cars, and the number of cars in Israel grows by 10% a year, thanks to leasing. The government itself fails to lead change, and its employees are actually given incentives to use private cars.

The electric vehicle market is also marking time. The benefit to the economy from a switch to electric vehicles is expected to total NIS 3.5 billion in 2030, but charging infrastructure is not making adequate progress, not even in government ministries themselves. The rate of upgrading of Israel Electric Corporation's power lines is also insufficient, which is causing delays in connecting some renewable energy generation installations to the electricity grid.

If that were not enough, although 60% of power consumption is inside buildings, causing one third of the total emissions of greenhouse gases in Israel, only 2% of all housing units built in 2018 received green construction standard certification. The proportion of green construction in Israel is low in comparison with other countries, amounting to just 8% of total construction, which compares with 40% in South Africa, 30% in the US and Poland, 20% in Saudi Arabia and 32% in Singapore. Most of the green construction plans are concentrated within the forum of the fifteen most prosperous cities in Israel, and mainly in Tel Aviv.

The good news from the State Comptroller's report is that the cost of solar energy has become much lower than expected. Whereas the forecast for the cost of one kw/h was NIS 0.71, the cost today is NIS 0.188.

"The State Comptroller's report demonstrates how elected representatives come out with blockbuster declarations time after time, and the government makes decisions, but fails to implement them fully. This of course does not inhibit politicians and the government from adding a few years and a few percentages and setting a new target," says Prof. Adi Wolfson, an expert in sustainability and a professor of chemical engineering at the Sami Shamoon College of Engineering in Beersheva.

"All this is happening while our targets are substantially lower than renewable energy targets around the world," Wolfson says. "With all the progress on the matter and the switch to natural gas, greenhouse gas emissions from power production in Israel are still expected to rise in absolute terms. All over the world, plans are being drawn up for a carbon-zero economy, and in sun-drenched Israel the economy is based on natural gas. The climate crisis will affect the economy, health, and the environment in Israel more than the coronavirus crisis, and the State of Israel must stop burying its head in the sand."

The Ministry of Transport said in a statement, "The ministry, in all its activities, is promoting high-quality public transport that will represent a genuine alternative to the use of private vehicles, while advancing the economy at the level of infrastructures, through to technologies and to the level of service to passengers. All this is at the same time as electrification of the fleet of buses in Israel. The ministry also encourages the use of "green" vehicles and the paving of bicycle lanes and friendly spaces for those walking by foot, with the aim of improving the quality of life for all road users."

The Ministry of Energy stated in response: "The Ministry of Energy, in conjunction with the Electricity Authority, has in the past two years drawn up several strategic plans for the energy industry and a program of goals for the 2030s, and it is currently drafting a strategic plan for 2050. Within these plans are short- and long-term targets that will serve as a strategic basis for the ministry's activity in the economy, among them expansion of the target for electricity production from renewable resources to 30% by 2030. In today's world, which is subject to frequent change, the ministry's activity creates a balance between long-term planning and flexibility in decision making.

"As for the claim that renewable energy targets have not been met: the timetable in the Electricity Authority's regulations should have brought us to the target at the end of 2020. Because of the coronavirus crisis and delays in all areas of the economy, we allowed developers a certain extension. Our assessment is that we shall meet the target in the first few months of 2021."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 20, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Air pollution  photo: Reuters
Air pollution photo: Reuters
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