OPINION: Israel finally on track to fulfil its solar potential

Plans for a 500MW project are a promising signal that major solar deployment is finally on the horizon for Israel.

In a country where 95% of the population uses solar-heated water and where innovation is part of the culture, you would expect PV to account for an impressive slice of the electricity production mix – but it doesn't.

Just 3% of Israel's power comes from solar, despite the introduction of a feed-in tariff in 2008 and a net-metering scheme in 2013 – the latter leading to the deployment of 80MW, out of a total cap of 400MW.

The reason for the delayed implementation of solar PV in Israel is mainly related to the conservative management of the Treasury ministry, which historically treated solar subsidies as a taboo.

The logic for going solar in Israel is very clear. The country is an energy Island not interconnected to its neighbours and diversification of energy sources is therefore a security must.

In 2013 Treasury officials finally began to understand that solar is becoming economically feasible – in the same year Israel's parliament deployed a 450KW net-metering system.

Soon afterwards the Israeli Government decided to launch solar tenders. But elections and a rethinking of Israel's energy policy because of natural gas discoveries has delayed the process for almost two years.

In 2016 the elected government began to fulfil the solar promise. After COP21 in Paris, new 17% 2030 RES goals were set. As Israel's RES potential is mainly solar, it will require some 5-7GW of solar capacity in 2030. 

The first step will come soon and it is expected that by November 2016 the initial 250MW of a 1GW auction scheme will made public. 

There are signs that this new phase of solar development in Israel will be enduring. The announcement of the 500MW PV site in the Negev (Dimona) reflects the government's new commitment.

The tender will try to copy the success of Ashlim, where two CSP (250MW) and two PV systems (70MW) will be built, with the former already under construction. 

Israel is a small but promising PV market. A stable, highly-rated economy with conservative regulators and not too many players should attract investment and experienced companies. 

Eitan Parnass is director general of the Green Energy Association of Israel and secretary of the Global Solar Council