Israel eyes 1.2GW of PV

Israel is moving to double its installed PV base in the next two years to 1.2GW to help meet mushrooming commercial demand and a long-standing ambition for greater energy security, according to the head of the country’s renewable energy association.

National electricity demand, which is growing at some 3.5% a year, is being met largely by gas, the lion’s share of which is being piped in from Egypt, with only 1.5% of new supply currently coming from wind and solar energy, including some 500MW of PV now grid-connected and another 200MW that is under construction.

But Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is “cautiously” pushing through a new energy policy that would build on government targets of renewable energy meeting 10% of demand by 2020 – alongside exploitation of several giant oil and gas fields discovered in recent years in the Israeli Mediterranean – led by a raft of greenfield PV projects.

“Israel is trying to shift total quotas [of power production targets] already allocated to CSP [concentrating solar power] and wind to photovoltaics,” states Eilan Parnass, director general of the Green Association of Israel (GAI).

“The big debate last year about the benefits of renewables to the Israeli economy was a struggle, but it [legislation] is now being stamped by government for the promotion of renewable energy. So we are now at the beginning of potentially a very nice phase in our history.”

A 50MW tender for PV projects is planned for August, adding to two recently-licensed CSP plants totalling 180MW, and 200MW of new-build transmission lines.

“The quota shift [to PV] has been stuck for several months due to the objections of one minister [whose portfolio] has nothing to do with electricity, but it now looks like it will be released in the coming weeks. It is happening,” says Parnass.

The solar resource in Israel is rich, as the country has a direct normal irradiance – a measurement of the intensity of sunlight – of around 2,000 kWh per square metre, similar to Saudi Arabia. Wind power is calculated to have a capacity ceiling of around 1GW.

“Solar is the main focus but we have a very cautious government, with a treasury that is very old-school in its economics,” states Parnass.

“And we don’t have a good greenhouse emission-reduction policy. This has limited the progress of photovoltaics so far.”

In 2008, the state-owned Israeli Public Utility Authority gave the go-ahead for a feed-n tariff (FIT) for solar plants up to a maximum of 15kW for residential installations and 50kWp for commercial.

The National Infrastructures Ministry expanded the FIT a year later to cover developments ranging from 50kw to 5MW, but few projects were built. “The main driver that will promote PV in Israel is energy security,” says Parnass.

“We need to diversify our energy sources, decentralise."