Building mass solar fields as the government intends, the report argues, would diminish reserves of open space and cause unnecessary environmental damage
Zafrir Rinat Oct 23, 2017

Rooftop solar panels could produce enough energy to fully meet the government’s target for solar energy, so there’s no justification for approving additional plans for ground-based solar facilities, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel argued in a new report.

The report’s findings will be presented at a special meeting next week of the Knesset’s Subcommittee for Advancing Technologies for Renewable Energy.

The government’s target is for solar energy to account for 17 percent of Israel’s energy production by 2030. To meet this target, Israel will need to produce an additional 3,600 megawatts of solar energy, mainly through solar panels.

Until recently, the government has given clear priority to developing large solar fields in open areas. Just in the past few months, plans to build two such fields, one near Timna and one near Dimona, have been submitted to the national infrastructure planning committee; together, they would sprawl over 7,000 dunams (1,730 acres).

SPNI believes that in total, 40,000 dunams of land will be needed to meet Israel’s renewable energy targets. But the government has already allocated 45,000 dunams for this purpose. Thus allocating any additional land would severely reduce Israel’s reserves of open space and cause great harm to nature without actually being necessary to achieve the goal, it argues.

Its report is based on a survey of all studies done to date – both academic studies and those by government agencies – on the energy production potential of rooftop solar panels. It concluded that rooftop solar panels could produce 2.5 times as much energy as would be required to meet the government’s target, and could in fact supply 25 percent of Israel’s energy needs.

“Actually, this is a conservative estimate, and the potential may be even greater,” said SPNI’s Dror Boymel. “We didn’t take into account the fact that by 2030, rooftop space will have increased greatly, due to plans to add at least 40,000 homes a year. There were also all kinds of assumptions about the efficiency of solar panels, and these, of course, could change. Thus electricity production in practice could be even greater.”

Israel’s existing rooftop solar panels can produce about 600 megawatts of electricity. They were installed under a system known as “net metering,” in which anyone who installed the panels would have his electricity bill reduced by the amount of electricity he supplied to the national grid. But this system was capped at 800 megawatts, so as of now, there’s a limit on how much rooftop solar production could expand.

Nevertheless, several municipalities are trying to encourage the installation of rooftop panels. Kfar Sava has such a program, and just yesterday, Ofakim announced that it will subsidize the installation of solar panels on buildings within its city limits.

To fully realize the potential of rooftop solar production, the SPNI report recommended several steps. The first is setting a quota of 215 megawatts a year for new rooftop solar production, which would require expanding the net metering system.

It also recommended passing legislation requiring all new buildings to have rooftop solar panels, similar to the existing law requiring all new buildings to have solar water heaters. Finally, it said that rooftop solar panels should not require building permits, and should also be exempt from the home improvement tax.

“No additional land should be allocated for solar energy,” the report argued. “And especially, land shouldn’t be allocated for solar facilities in the Jerusalem, central, Tel Aviv, Haifa and northern districts.”
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