Like every other nation, Israel is a country that is always growing – demographically, technologically and economically. As a result, Israel has an ever-growing need for a reliable and efficient supply of electrical energy.
As a country with few natural resources, Israel imports most of its fuel for electrical energy. Currently, Israel’s main fuel supplies are coal and natural gas. Egypt provides most of Israel’s natural gas through a pipeline in the Sinai Peninsula, while Israel buys most of its coal on the open market from countries such as Australia and the United States.
Due to the high cost of foreign imports, Israel made many efforts to reduce its dependence on imported sources of fuel for electricity. For decades, Israel unsuccessfully attempted to discover oil or other fossil fuels within its borders. However, recent exploration efforts off the northern coast of Israel led to the discovery of a large pool of natural gas in a site called Tamar. Furthermore, Israel recently cooperated with Cyprus assisting with their undersea natural gas exploration.
In addition to recent gas discoveries off the coast of Israel, a large cache of oil shale embedded in Israel’s Shefela region, between the coast and mountain range is now being explored. This deposit of oil shale is one of the largest in the world – one estimate places Israel’s oil shale capacity at 250 billion barrels of oil. Until recently, it was uneconomical and environmentally destructive to make use of this resource. The drilling methods of the past would have destroyed the existing rock formations, ruined the landscape, wasted a large amount of scarce water and cost as much as the oil extracted. Today, there are new technologies that will allow for the extraction of this oil shale without destroying the hillside. Furthermore, the new method creates water and costs less than 30% of the value of the oil.
Another way Israel tries to reduce its dependency on imported fuels is through the development of renewable electrical energy using solar energy. Israel’s location close to the equator and the country’s semi-arid climate make it a perfect place to implement the use of solar energy.
In 1980, Israel legislated that all houses and buildings must have solar water heaters. Some 95% of households in Israel have solar water heaters today. This saves massive amounts of gas and fuel that would normally be used to heat water.
Many Israeli companies are investing a great deal of resources to innovate more efficient methods of collecting, storing, and distributing solar energy. Today, solar energy is reliant on photo-voltaic cells which collect about 10% of the available solar energy. These cells are expensive to build, require a great deal of land and are far too costly to compete with fossil fuels on the energy market.
Israeli companies such as BrightSourceEnergy are currently developing technologies with the potential to be seven times more efficient than standard photovoltaic technology. These technologies will only be slightly more expensive than fossil fuels. In a time of rising energy costs, these technologies may provide many countries with clean and cost-effective solutions for their energy needs.
Smart Grid Technology
Another way that Israelis are trying to improve their energy efficiency is with “Smart Grid Technology”. This technology is designed to electronically monitor electricity usage in households and buildings, thus giving both electricity users and suppliers precise information on peaks and lows in electricity usage. The grid will be able to detect when each individual house or business uses electricity the most and when the amount of electricity usage is very low. This Smart Grid Technology will allow both users and suppliers of electricity to use power more efficiently, reducing electricity costs for the users while also reducing strain on the supply system.
The Israel Chief Scientist’s office, the main government fund for research and development, recently awarded 70 million Shekels to the Israeli Smart Grid (ISG) Consortium, which is dedicated to researching Smart Grid Technologies. This research grant will help advance the study of smart grids, which, as a result, will make them more efficient and effective.