Israel Environment Bulletin Spring 1996-5756, Vol. 19, No. 2


by Dr. Uri Marinov, Environmental Consultant

Conventional sources of energy are responsible for a wide range of environmental problems. Pollutant emissions may cause smog on the local level, acid rain on the regional level, and the greenhouse effect on the global level. The energy sector, in general, and CO2 emissions, in particular, are the main contributors to the greenhouse effect. Therefore, in planning for Israel’s sustainable energy development, the environmental, economic, planning, technological and organizational significance of these issues should be taken into account.

While operative decisions on the reduction of CO2 emissions have been slow in coming, it is anticipated that decisions will be taken in the future on permitted CO2 emission levels for each state, on the basis of population and other criteria. Although Israel, with a forecasted population of 7-10 million, will only have a marginal impact on the global situation, this country too will take part in the global effort.

Energy Policy in Israel

As a result of Israel’s geopolitical condition and the cost of energy, the considerations which guided decision makers on energy issues were nearly always limited to supply. In the 1980s, environmental laws, regulations and decrees began to be imposed on the Israel Electric Corporation and oil refineries and, as a result, low sulfur oil was introduced. Environmental issues became more dominant in decision making on fuel purchases in the 1990s, and energy policy incorporated such considerations as safe supply, diversity of sources, low cost and environmental impact. However, with the exception of solar energy (which accounts for only 3% of total energy consumption), the government did little to encourage the production of energy from local sources, such as oil shale or incineration.

While in the past, environmental considerations were largely restricted to reductions in SO2 emissions, it is now clear that future attention will focus on CO2 emissions. To reduce CO2 and other emissions, the following five steps must be taken.

Increasing Production Efficiency

Since electricity production is responsible for some 30% of total CO2 emissions, increasing the efficiency of electricity production is especially important. To implement this, the following activities should be taken:

Legislation changes: Legislation should allow the private sector to produce energy in addition to the Israel Electric Corporation. Today, up to 10% of Israel’s total electricity may be produced by private companies in Israel and another 10% by overseas electricity producers. A change in legislation would enable the establishment of smaller power plants using cleaner and more efficient technologies, such as gas, wind and solar turbines. It would also promote cogeneration, or combined heat and power, in industrial plants. While energy efficiency in conventional power generation may be as low as 35%, cogeneration can raise efficiency to 90%.

Gas turbines: The introduction of combined cycle units, which use the heat of gas emissions, has increased the rate of energy efficiency in gas turbines by more than 50%. Gas turbines have clear environmental advantages when compared to conventional power plants: no sulfur dioxide emissions, nearly no particulate emissions, a reduction of up to 90% in nitrogen oxide emissions and a reduction of up to 60% in carbon dioxide emissions.

Energy Conservation

The greatest environmental and economic benefits which may be derived from sustainable energy policy are related to energy savings. Effective energy conservation requires the integration of many activities, with special emphasis on economic incentives and development of new technologies. Following are some possible directions for action:

Energy savings in buildings: proper insulation can save up to 75% of the energy required for heating and cooling systems. Energy-efficient electric bulbs consume up to 90% less energy than conventional bulbs. Energy savings in electrical appliances: Energy efficiency labels are required for all electrical appliances in many countries. This is especially important for such appliances as refrigerators, air conditioners, freezers, dishwashers, washing machines and dryers.

Energy savings in industry: Energy savings in industry can reach 20-30%, without additional investment. Larger savings are possible in new plants. Economic measures: Subsidies, incentives and taxes are the most important measures for achieving energy savings. In some European countries, taxes on energy consumption by private consumers and organizations (rather than industry) have been imposed, or are being considered. Subsidies on new and efficient products, such as new electric bulbs, should be considered. Taxes on energy producers and consumers may be imposed in accordance with such criteria as pollutant emission levels and production and consumption efficiency.

Energy savings in transportation: The USEPA requires consumers to be provided with information on the engine efficiency of each car, and requires companies to maintain an energy-efficient vehicle fleet. Public transport, bicycle paths, and priority to cars with more than one driver are only some of the means which may bring about significant savings in energy use in the transport sector.

Switch from Coal and Oil to Gas Use

Gas combustion emits some 50% less CO2 to the atmosphere, for each unit of energy, than coal combustion, and 25% less than oil combustion. Moreover, gas combustion does not emit sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. While the environmental advantages of a switch to gas use in power plants are clear, the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) stands to gain additional advantages from gas use as well:

  • A switch to gas will prevent the need for scrubbers in the new power plants of the IEC.
  • A switch to gas may allow the IEC to continue operation of its Tel Aviv, Haifa and Ashdod oil-fired stations using gas, without the need for opening new sites.
  • A switch to gas may solve the problem of coal ash disposal, which is currently disposed at sea or recycled for cement production

    Gas and Particulate Control

    While methods exist for the reduction of SO2, NOx and particulate emissions from stacks (e.g. electrostatic precipitators, scrubbers), disposal of the ash and other wastes remains a significant problem. While technologies for CO2 control will certainly be developed in the future, disposal will remain a problem.

    Increased afforestation is the only known way of reducing CO2

    concentrations in the atmosphere, but the world’s forested areas are fast diminishing. It is unreasonable to assume that Israel will be able to significantly increase the areas designated for afforestation in the future.

    Use of Alternative and Renewable Energy Sources

    The forecast for the year 2000 is for the consumption of 18 million ton-oil equivalent (TOE) and for 26 million TOE in 2020. This is considered to be a conservative forecast which does not take into account technological developments, on the one hand, and environmental problems (e.g. the greenhouse effect), on the other hand.

    A more recent survey, prepared by the Israel Electric Corporation in March 1996, forecasts that peak electricity demands in 2020 will reach 15,000 megawatts for a population of 7.6 million. This survey envisions that future electricity production technologies will integrate the use of alternative sources of energy (e.g. natural gas, liquid fuel, oil shale, energy storage, and renewable sources of energy) with the more traditional coal-fired generation units.

    Alternative energy sources include the following:

    Nuclear energy: While nuclear energy does not emit CO2 into the atmosphere, fewer nuclear plants are being established worldwide. For political, security, economic, technological, environmental , psychological and social reasons, nuclear power stations for electricity production, which are based on existing technologies, are not an option for Israel at this time.

    Geothermal energy: It is estimated that some 15,000 megawatts may be produced from this source in the year 2000. However, it is not expected that this source of energy would be used in Israel in the foreseeable future.

    Wind: It is anticipated that by the year 2000, up to 10,000 megawatts of this type of energy will be produced. While the wind energy potential is significant, the constraints of wind turbines (in terms of siting, wind factors, and landscape sensitivity) are substantial. Due to land scarcity, population density and landscape and aesthetic sensitivity, this technology is not expected to become a significant source of electricity production in Israel.

    Water: It is estimated that some 20% of the total world electricity production is derived from hydroelectric energy. This technology is not free of environmental problems since it requires the establishment of large reservoirs of water, the diversion of rivers, and in some cases the relocation of populations. Although a few small turbines were constructed near the Jordan River in the past, the direct use of fresh water (in contrast to pumped storage) is not expected to constitute a significant source of electricity production in Israel in the future.

    Pumped storage: The idea behind this concept is to store energy potential or, in practice, to store electricity. Water is pumped into an elevated reservoir during surplus electricity production and is used during peak demand periods. Surveys on this technology were conducted both in Lake Kinneret and in the Dead Sea. However, even if one or two turbines are constructed, they are not expected to be a significant factor in electricity production in the future.

    Solar energy: Solar energy can supply 10,000 times more electricity than the entire global consumption of energy. Israel has developed several technologies for solar energy production, including a development based on parabolic troughs which was used in the construction of power plants in California. Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science has successfully experimented with "solar towers," and its scientists estimate that some 25% of Israel’s future energy will be supplied by solar energy. It is anticipated that by the year 2000, the costs of producing electricity from solar energy will be similar to today’s costs of electricity production from coal.

    Fuel cells: This technology, which was first developed in the 1960s within the framework of America’s space program, has clear environmental advantages: fuel cells are more efficient (40-60% efficiency), and they generate almost no air pollution or noise. Fuel cells have been used to supply electricity and heat to hospitals, hotels and offices, and will be used at a greater scope in the future to supply electricity for lighting, heating, and cooling.

    Photovoltaic cells: These cells exploit the sun for electricity production in private homes. The industry is growing at a rate of some 12% per year, and it is anticipated that by the beginning of the next century, this technology will become economically viable for use in wide areas. Flywheel: A research study on the development of a flywheel which will operate like a mechanical battery was conducted in the USA. Such a device would be able to store and produce energy at an efficiency of up to 90%, and could be used in the home to store cheap electricity at night or solar energy during the day and to release it during peak hours when electricity is expensive.

    SNAP Technology: SNAP (Sneh Aero-electric Power) is an acronym for a technology developed in the Technion

  • Israel Institute of Technology to create electric power and desalinated water in the world deserts, using air and a spray of water. The hot and dry air of the desert is cooled in a tall, large-diameter chimney. This leads to a downward airflow which reaches high velocity and activates turbines which generate electricity. Plans have recently been made for establishing a pilot plant in Israel. Canals: Several ideas for utilizing canals to generate hydroelectric energy have been raised in recent decades. The best known was a proposal to bring water from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea using the difference in height to generate some 800 megawatts of electricity. Additional proposals include a Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal (an idea raised within the framework of the Middle East peace process) and a canal which would transfer water from the Mediterranean to the Beit She’an region for discharge into the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. The environmental impacts of all these proposals require careful investigation.

    These developments are all dependent on decentralization of Israel’s electricity supply system. Israel’s future system will have to be dual-directional. Electricity will be produced and distributed, not only in large production stations, but in thousands of small installations which will be connected to the network and will pump or discharge electricity from and to the network according to need.

    Sustainable Development Policy

    Planning for an efficient, competitive, reliable and environment-friendly electricity production and supply system will require major reforms. A number of parameters are vital for the success of this process including:

  • a competitive market for the production and sale of electricity; incentives for the production of electricity from a wide variety of sources;
  • a dual-directional supply network;
  • internalization of environmental considerations and priorities in the decision making process;
  • fragmentation of electricity supply systems.

    In light of the importance of reducing CO2 and other pollutant emissions, Israel must develop a national strategy which is based on renewable sources of energy, whenever this is economically feasible. While some of the ideas advanced for energy production from renewable sources are competitive, both economically and technologically, their part in electricity production has remained minimal, for the following reasons:

  • When calculating the costs of electricity currently produced from fossil fuels, full environmental costs to the economy are not taken into account. Therefore, the electricity produced by conventional energy appears to be less expensive.
  • The monopoly of electricity production and supply companies precludes competition.
  • There are no incentives or information to private investors interested in entering this sector.
  • Uncertainties exist vis a vis technologies and their reliability. Dozens of years of conventional electricity production and supply have resulted in conservative thought patterns.
  • The cost of coal and gas is relatively low.

    The development of a national strategy for renewable energy requires the formulation of a policy to overcome some of the above-stated obstacles and problems. Policy should relate to such subjects as pollution taxes on emissions from conventional power plants, reduced subsidies on fossil fuel use, and national priority to the development of energy production systems from alternative and renewable sources.

    A sustainable energy policy should be based on the following components and objectives:

  • To reduce oil and coal use and increase gas use for electricity production and for industry.
  • To maintain CO2 emissions at the level established by international conventions.
  • To examine the need for economic tools to reduce fossil fuels, including the imposition of an energy tax.
  • To develop a national plan for energy conservation using all available tools, including legislation, regulation, enforcement, incentives, education, information, monitoring, research and development and to implement energy conservation plans in all sectorsdomestic, industrial, commercial and agricultural.
  • To develop methods for savings in the production and supply of energy, including incentives for cogeneration plants and gas turbines.
  • To open the electricity production market to competition, and to connect private and small producers to the electricity network.
  • To encourage the use of renewable sources of energy, especially solar energy, through a variety of means including subsidies and incentives,
  • To promote research and development on energy issues.
  • To review the need for organizational changes in order to facilitate the development and implementation of a sustainable energy policy.
  • To monitor technological and economic changes worldwide, and to develop a policy which will be able to adopt innovative technological, economic and administrative tools for goal achievement.


    The main goal of a sustainable energy policy is to achieve efficient and reliable energy production and supply while taking account of the environmental, national, regional and international impacts of this sector. It is reasonable to assume that by the beginning of the next century, most of the problems related to air pollution from gas and particulate emissions will be solved. However, CO2 and other greenhouse gases will continue to constitute a major problem, and Israel will join the world effort to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. For this and for other reasons, Israel will have to switch from coal and oil-fired electricity generation to the use of gas and renewable sources of energy, especially solar energy. To reach this goal, Israel will have to reform its electricity economy and to initiate intensive activities aimed at savings in energy production and consumption, decentralization of the production and supply system, and development of new technologies. These reforms will require concomitant organizational, administrative, economic and physical changes.