Event Reports

Energy Security and Energy Strategies in Europe and Israel

On March 18th 2012, Ben-Gurion University’s Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research hosted a symposium on the subject Energy Security for Europe and Israel, organized by the Israel office of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. The purpose of the symposium was to bring together European and Israeli energy specialists in order to compare their respective insights into ideas for reducing dependence on the world’s ever-dwindling supplies of oil.

An overview of the European perspectives to energy security and the challenges they pose for policy was presented by Dr. Götz Reichert, of the Centrum für Europäische Politik. Reichert explained that at present, the 27 EU member states depend on imports of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and crude oil for over 75% and that this trend is further increasing. He showed how, as a response to these challenges, in the past five years the EU has started developing a comprehensive energy policy which is targeting an extensive decarbonisation of the European energy system over the long term. For this purpose, the member states seek to diversify their energy imports, to create an EU-wide internal energy market, to promote renewable energies, to increase energy efficiency and to modernise their energy infrastructure.

Of related significance was the presentation of Severin Fischer, of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, on a unified European policy for renewable energies. Fischer concluded that renewables are without any doubt becoming one of the fundamentals of the European Electricity Supply System. According to the “EU Energy Roadmap 2050”, renewables will, depending on the decarbonization scenario, contribute between 59-83% of electricity supply in the EU by 2050. However, the renewables policy in the EU still has the character of a framework rather than a guiding function. The debate on the framework beyond 2020 will be decisive for the question whether the EU will move toward an effective and cost-efficient energy system based on renewables.

The symposium was of particular value because, in spite of many problems common to both Europe and Israel, a number of specific experiences were discussed from which the other could learn. For example, on the one hand, it was possible to discuss some of Europe’s experience with nuclear power plants and, as shown by Dr. Ari Rabl of Paris, non-negligible costs are to be expected in trying to phase this power source out. Such calculations should provide food for thought for a country, such as Israel, that has not yet decided whether to implement a nuclear power program. On the other hand, in spite of Israel’s abundant exposure to solar energy, non-negligible problems have long been experienced in trying to phase this power source in. Much of this experience could help in heading off comparable problems that are likely to arise in implementing Europe’s DESERTEC project that was admirably outlined by its co-founder, Dr.-Ing. Ulrich Hueck.

Turning to the Israeli perspective, Dr. Shlomo Wald, Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Energy & Water, drew attention to the debate that is raging in Israel over what Israel should do about its recent discoveries of natural gas. In the Mediterranean Tamar and Leviathan basins 750 billion cubic meters of gas have already been found, and discoveries of 450 billion cubic meters more are expected. On the one hand, to base all of Israel’s future energy requirements upon it would create security problems of a new order of magnitude. For, as emphasized by Dr. Amit Mor, CEO of ECO Energy Ltd. and a frequent advisor to the government, the drilling platforms and the many kilometers of pipeline that will be needed to collect the gas and transfer it to the shore would constitute prime targets for terrorists. At the other extreme, as emphasized by Dr. Wald, to sell the gas on the world market would quickly deplete a resource that, in the long run, should significantly contribute to the country’s energy security. Therefore some form of happy medium will be needed. Wald also indicated that in his opinion, nuclear energy is a less environmentally hostile technology for generating base load power than is the present burning of coal. However, the public is likely to prove hard to convince that this is a viable solution for Israel.

One intriguing alternative to nuclear, presented by Dr. Harold Vinegar, Chief Scientist of Israeli Energy Initiatives, and former Chief Scientist of Royal Dutch Shell, is to generate oil and gas from Israeli oil shale, by heating the oil shale in situ. According to Vinegar, Israel and Jordan have some of the richest global oil shale deposits: Israel has, conservatively, over 250 billion barrels of oil in oil shale. In situ conversion technology has been developed that enables the shale oil and gas to be produced from either vertical or horizontal wells drilled into the shale underground, with only a small surface footprint. Vinegar said that pipeline gas would be used to start heating the oil shale underground, after which the produced gas from the process would make it self-sustaining, with a high energy output to energy input ratio. All aspects of the in situ conversion technology have been demonstrated in oil shale in Colorado and in heavy oil in Alberta, according to Vinegar. Applying this technology here could provide Israel both energy security and energy independence.

A number of possible environmental concerns were voiced, particularly by Yael Cohen Paran, head of Israel Energy Forum, but Vinegar appeared to have answers for all. Nevertheless, in her own presentation, Paran emphasized that Israel could move a long way towards energy independence by cutting down on a needlessly large amount of waste. She emphasized several sectors in which such significant energy savings could be effected that it would defer the need to construct any further power plants for a number of years: enough time to allow serious public debate on the relative efficacy of the various technological options.

One option that Dov Raviv, CEO of MST, has been advocating for a number of years, is that of solar power produced from large concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) systems. He showed a photograph of a single 50 kW unit that he built in Arad, which has been in continuous operation for more than two years. A field of 40,000 units of 25 kW each (MST’s preferred rating for utility-scale systems) would occupy approximately 10 km2 of desert and generate 1 Gigawatt of power. Raviv further claims that storage batteries would become available within three years that would enable such plants to be fully compatible with grid requirements. One of the impressive features of Raviv’s scheme – which, due to an unfortunate misunderstanding, he was not able to present in its entirety – is the novel manner he proposes for funding such projects. However, he very kindly agreed to allow his slides to be distributed among the conference attendees. In outline, Raviv’s idea is to construct, each year, a solar plant production line of capacity 300 MW/y such that after 5 years the production capacity would reach 1,500 MW/y. Solar plants would be built each year at a size commensurate with the existing production capacity and income from their steadily increasing combined electricity production would eventually cover the debt created by the initial investment and the cost of new plants. According to Raviv’s calculations, the maximum credit requirement would be US$ 15B and all costs would be fully paid off by year 20. At that stage Israel would have 25 GW of installed solar capacity, constituting between 50 – 60 % of its total electrical needs. Another aspect of Raviv’s scheme is that the electricity tariff would be held at its present rate for the first seven years and, thereafter, would steadily decrease. The scheme would create 30,000 jobs being thus a benefit to the public, the economy, and energy security.

Raviv’s company is one of several Israeli startups with revolutionary ideas, that have needed to look for funding from private investors and from overseas. This problem was addressed by Oded Distel of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. Distel presented a number of recently-introduced government instruments that are designed to encourage such startups. Time will tell as to how effective these instruments will turn out to be.

Finally, Professor David Faiman, of Ben-Gurion University’s Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, and host of the meeting, proposed a novel manner for funding the large-scale introduction of solar plants into Israel (and other countries too). Faiman first reviewed what Israel’s projected electricity needs are likely to be, based on the trend of the past 20 years of production, and how much of it could be provided by the various renewable technologies that are currently available. He showed that if the country seriously intends to meet its stated goal of “10% renewables by 2020”, Israel would need to install approximately 0.8 B kWh of new generating capacity each year until that time. Taking photovoltaics as a convenient and tangible technology, Faiman indicated that this would mean the construction of approximately 450 MW per year. Such a figure is, of course, huge by world standards given that the largest PV plant currently in existence is less than one quarter of this size – and Israel would need to construct one such giant plant each year! However, Faiman’s novel approach to funding was to suggest that solar plants should be regarded as “public good” – like roads, schools, hospitals, etc. – and paid for out of taxes. Given that the present cost of a 450 MW PV plant would be approximately 900 M Euros, and that Israelis are currently consuming 60 B kWh per year, a tax of 1.5 Eurocents per kWh on electricity consumption would completely cover the cost of such a plant. Such a tax, if accompanied by an appropriate education program, could also be an instrument for effecting significant energy saving by the public.

The symposium was attended by an audience of about 70 people and took place on the university’s Sede Boqer campus in the Axel Springer auditorium of the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism. Symposium attendees were greeted on behalf of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung by State Secretary (ret.) Michael Mertes, and on behalf of Ben-Gurion University by Professor Pedro Berliner.

Prof. David Faiman

Single title
May 30, 2012
Publication Energy Security in Europe and Israel