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Israel’s solar power struggles against government
Energy policy » The technology is top-notch but the population isn’t hooked on the concept.


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Currently Israel gets most of its power from burning imported fossil fuels, but there is interest in developing alternative sources such as wind and solar. Israel is also rapidly developing natural gas reserves off its Mediterranean coast.

Recognizing solar power’s potential, the Israeli government set up a "feed-in tariff" incentive in 2008, agreeing to pay developers higher-than-retail prices for solar energy fed back into the grid.

At a glance

No love for solar in Israel

No love at home » Israel has developed some of the world’s most advanced solar energy equipment and enjoys a nearly endless supply of sunshine, but when it comes to deploying large-scale solar technology at home, the country remains in the dark ages.

Greener pastures » Solar power provides just a tiny percentage of Israel’s energy needs, leaving it far behind colder, cloudier counterparts in Europe. Israeli solar companies, frustrated by government bureaucracy, have taken their expertise abroad. Industry leaders such as Germany and Italy have outpaced Israel in solar development, despite having fewer sunny days and less powerful sunrays. The Germans, for instance, generate nearly 12 times as much solar power per capita as their Israeli counterparts, according to official statistics from both countries.

Broken household » One of the biggest complaints by Israeli solar companies is the bureaucracy. Smadar Bat-Adam, chief of staff for Israel’s Energy and Water Resources Ministry, acknowledged that red tape has been an issue. But she targets set years ago to ramp up solar power were overly ambitious. Israel is on track to reach its 2020 benchmark of generating 10 percent of its electricity needs from renewable sources, she said.

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Because the government does not want to overpay, it has repeatedly adjusted the tariff as solar equipment has gotten cheaper. As a result, many large projects are on hold, awaiting a firm price.

Many analysts and industry professionals believe this uncertainty has hindered investment.

"The sad reality is that we’ve raised quite a lot from Israeli investors, and we are taking this money and investing it overseas because the industries are more consistent," said Nimrod Goor, a founding managing partner at Helios Energy Investments LP, an Israel-based infrastructure equity fund.

The situation has made some experts skeptical of Israel’s commitment to harvesting its ample sunlight.

Uri Marinov, an environmental management professor at the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herzliya and a former director of the Israeli Environment Ministry, said decision makers are making "big, big mistakes" through unnecessary regulations.

"Anyone who wants to build a solar field should be able to do it," he said.

Israel is still a leader in solar research and development. Segev teamed up with the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to produce a little household system that reflects concentrated sunlight onto a receiver, producing electricity with roughly two times the efficiency of standard panels. Segev hopes the new model, named the Z10, will find a market in homes throughout Israel.

One of the Z10’s advantages? "It doesn’t need any government support or intervention to set it up," Segev said.


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