Renewable energy will save billions over natural gas power stations, ministry says, as a plan spearheaded by the Electric Corporation and the Energy Ministry calls for 12 new gas-fueled ones to be built in the coming decade

Zafrir Rinat | Jun. 25, 2020

The Environmental Protection Ministry is calling on the Energy Ministry to drop its plans for new natural gas power stations and to instead plan power stations that run on renewable energy and energy storage facilities.

According to a comprehensive report published on Wednesday, the planned power stations will not only pollute, but come with a heftier price tag. The Environmental Protection Ministry estimates that opting for energy from renewable sources and energy storage facilities will save the state 9 billion shekels ($2.6 billion).

The ministry’s recommendations are contrary to a plan spearheaded by the Electric Corporation and the Energy Ministry, which calls for 12 new gas-fueled power stations to be built in the coming decade. These stations are currently at different stages of planning, and their combined output will be close to 7,000 megawatts. Sixty percent of this will be provided by peaking power plants, facilities which will soon be operational on a limited basis to meet demand in times of shortages. In tandem, the Electric Corporation and the ministry plan to build combined cycle plants, which run on natural gas and utilize the heat produced for generating more energy.

A team at the Environmental Protection Ministry, headed by Dr. Gil Proactor and in collaboration with experts in the area, has analyzed the ramifications of setting up these power stations. The report says that peaking power stations can stabilize energy supply, which is why until recently they have been constructed around the world, but they are energetically inefficient, pollute heavily and are expensive to build.

The report notes that the turbines at these stations almost always on, which means they go through cycles of heating up, accelerating and decelerating – stages during which energy consumption and pollution are high. Estimates are that emission of pollutants such as nitrous and sulfurous oxides is at least double the emissions produced by the combined cycle stations. They also produce more greenhouse gases.

On the backdrop of these limitations, the Environmental Protection Ministry looked at alternatives such as installations that use solar energy and store the energy produced. The analysis showed that there have been significant developments in technology associated with storing energy using batteries, and that their performance is fast and more effective than the peaking stations. In addition, their costs are lower and they reduce the emission of pollutants.

“Due to the many advantages of storage, the global trend is currently to stop building peaking power stations, and we’re following this trend,” explained Proactor. He noted that storage facilities could be used to store energy produced by combined cycle stations as well, thereby reducing the need for building additional similar stations. The report notes that the lifetime of a peaking power station is 30 years, meaning that a decision to build them will impact Israel’s dependence on these facilities for many years.

The Environmental Protection Ministry also analyzed the cost of operating gas-powered stations in comparison to renewable energy facilities that run on solar power. The analysis took into account the cost of damage caused by air pollution, and the conclusion was that building solar energy installations with storage capabilities instead of the peaking power stations will save Israel 9 billion shekels by the end of the decade.

The report recommends suspending the planning and approval of peaking power stations for at least three years, and using that time for constructing storage facilities and examining their advantages. “There is no logic in investing tens of billions of shekels in building gas-powered stations which are ineffective and polluting, and the strategy of electricity generation must be reevaluated due to technological developments and global trends,” said David Yahalomi, the ministry’s new director general who took over the position this week.

According to the ministry’s estimates, implementing the report’s recommendations will allow for an increased use of renewable energies, which would rise to 40 percent of all energy generation by the end of the decade in contrast to the Energy Ministry’s 30 percent target.

The Energy Ministry responded by saying that “the Environmental Ministry will continue talking while we continue doing. In four years, the Energy Ministry has cut the use of coal in half, as well as cutting pollution caused by the generation of electricity.

“We welcome the new director general at the Environmental Protection Ministry and commend the speed with which he managed to formulate a recommendation on such a complex topic. We regret that on such an important topic he did not see fit to discuss this with any professionals in the government.

“Nevertheless, we are proud that they have embraced some of our vision, and note that most of the power stations built in the last two years are based on renewable energy, and that gas-run stations will not be built unnecessarily. The ministry will be happy to update the new director general at the Environmental Protection Ministry regarding all the details and bring him up to speed.”