Q: You’ve recently returned from COP26 in Glasgow where world leaders have been attempting to address the climate crisis. What concrete steps is Israel set to take in the next few years to try and meet its self-imposed goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050? What steps is Israel taking to increase renewables capacity?

A: Over the past few years, Israel has been transitioning to greener energy, based on the increased usage of natural gas and renewables, while phasing out the use of coal. We are working towards the complete phasing out of coal burning in power stations, converting them all to natural gas by 2025 [MEES, 4 June]. Israel has already succeeded in transforming about 70% of its electricity production to natural gas, and by the end of 2021 we anticipate achieving 10% from renewable energy.

Achieving our net-zero goals by 2050 is possible but will require major and far-reaching steps.  Israel has conditions that intensify the challenge of transitioning to green energy, such as limited land area, high population density and an inability to produce hydro-electric or wind power. Israel’s greatest potential in transitioning to renewable energy lies in solar power. Israel is one of the leaders in the production of electricity from solar power, which accounts for roughly 90% of our renewable energy.

We are undertaking a number of significant steps in this direction. In network development, we are strengthening our ability to transmit high amounts of renewable energy, together with network stabilization. Decisions on major new technological developments will be made in the near future. 

We are developing energy storage capacity, as high storage capacity is needed. Our existing storage level, 300MW, must be significantly increased to a required 18-60GW. Israel is also seeking international connectivity in order to reach our net zero goal.

Solar power offers numerous benefits. But relying on it requires the development of technologies that ensure efficient and affordable energy storage. We are supporting innovative technologies to promote energy storage facilities that enable a dual use of land such as rooftops, water tanks and fishponds, agricultural fields, enclosed installations, and others.

Q: Do you envisage Israel pursuing low-carbon hydrogen production?

A: We are following the developments in Europe and other regions regarding hydrogen usage in the future, especially the EU concept of North Africa and the Middle East as potential regions for green hydrogen production [MEES, 1 October].

Our small land area available for solar PV limits our ability in the future to produce significant amounts of green hydrogen. However, we see ourselves potentially integrated into regional projects of low-carbon hydrogen, either as part of the passage to Europe or on the research and development side. With regard to R&D, I see a role for Israeli innovation in the development of greener technologies for blue hydrogen production and the gas sector, in general. 

Q: We’ve seen recent agreements signed by Egypt to link its electricity grid to Saudi Arabia, Greece and Cyprus [MEES, 8 October & MEES, 22 October]. Is Israel also looking at the possibility of connecting its grid to Jordan and Egypt, and by doing so possibly benefitting from increasing Jordanian renewable energy?

A: We understand that in order to successfully reach our emissions reduction targets, we will not be able to rely solely on electricity production from renewables in Israel. The potential for cooperation with our neighbors on clean energy production and transmission is a common interest and key to greening our region. 

Q: Turning to the upstream, the last decade has seen Israel’s gas sector leap forward with the 10.5tcf Tamar field being brought online in 2013 and the giant 22.7tcf Leviathan field coming online in late 2019 [MEES, 3 January]. What role can natural gas play in the energy transition as a bridge fuel, and do you foresee challenges in raising investment for natural gas development?

A: Israel has been developing and expanding its natural gas grid and furthering the conversion of industry to natural gas. With natural gas reservoirs of around 1,000 bcm [35tcf] and annual usage is approximately 12 bcm [1.2bn cfd], there are valuable economic benefits to produce natural gas for both the local and export market. 

Israel’s transition to renewable energies is a challenging and gradual process. Natural gas will continue to play a major role in our energy mix for the foreseeable future due the fact that solar power is currently our only source of renewables. 

Like the rest of the world, Israel’s gas sector is not untouched by the global trends and regulations necessary to deal with the effects of climate change. However, like our neighbors in the region, gas will remain a bridge fuel for perhaps longer than in other parts of the world, due to the particular economic and energy conditions in our region.

Q: Earlier this year a map showing potential offshore blocks for a new bid round was made public [MEES, 7 May]. But, so far, no bid round has been launched despite MEES understanding the Director General at the Energy Ministry, Udi Adiri, was very keen to launch the bid round six months ago. What is the status of this? Has Israel’s new government had a change of heart?

A: An announcement for a planned bid round for offshore natural gas exploration licenses was made in January this year. However, since then, we have had another round of national elections and a new government was recently established [MEES, 18 June]. 

Our current government is still reviewing and assessing Israel’s energy needs and resources for the future. The gas sector is a major component in this policy review. The significant role of natural gas as a bridging fuel is clearly understood, from the energy and economic perspectives and we will be seeing a policy position in the near future. Along with a higher standard of living and Israel’s natural population growth, as well as that of its neighboring countries, we realize that the demand for natural gas will only increase over the coming years.

Q: Has Chevron’s takeover of Noble, assuming operatorship of Leviathan and Tamar [MEES, 9 October 2020] and UAE state firm Mubadala’s recent purchase of Israeli firm Delek’s Tamar stake [MEES, 3 September] paved the way for larger firms to enter Israel’s upstream? What are the ramifications of these two deals on Israel’s upstream? Have there been talks with other oil majors about entering Israel? 

A: The entry of two major global players into the Israeli gas sector, in our assessment, has and will continue to strengthen and contribute to the ongoing activities of the existing licensees and will open up the possibility for cooperation with additional companies that refrained from entering the Israeli gas sector.

Q: What further role could Israel play in the region, following the normalization of ties with the UAE and Israel’s prominence in the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF)?

A: The relations developing between Israel and the UAE hold great potential for establishing regional energy inter connectivity, and an energy channel of cooperation on renewable energy from the Gulf region, and even India, through Israel and on to Europe.

Q: A recent report by Israel energy expert Gina Cohen, seen by MEES [MEES, 19 November], highlights the various challenges and opportunities faced by Israel in the East Mediterranean. The report considers various potential export projects for Israeli gas. Could you walk us through the steps Israeli authorities are taking to realize these projects and the potential political benefits that could be derived from them?

A: The transition to locally-produced natural gas contributes greatly to Israel’s energy security and economic well-being, while promoting economic relations with our neighbors and other countries, and Israel exports gas to Jordan and Egypt. 

As a signatory to the East Med Pipeline agreement, Israel plans to export natural gas to Europe via Cyprus and Greece [MEES, 25 September 2020]. We are aware of the economic and technical challenges of this project but it also has geo-strategic importance.  The survey vessel for the project is currently carrying out its mission, and is planned to be concluded by mid-2022.  

Once the maritime survey has been completed, the signatories will have the actual physical data and information, on which to take relevant decisions regarding the implementation of the project.   

Furthermore, we are exploring the possibility of increasing exports via LNG, which has always been considered a more flexible and quicker option. We are examining the potential and economic viability of FLNG while relevant parties are also looking into the option of a direct pipeline to the LNG plants in Egypt and initial discussions have taken place [MEES, 5 November]. Energy is a national interest in all countries and creates an interdependence, rather than a dependence. The interdependence in the gas sector and the cooperation that is necessary, lays positive foundations and has a spill-over effect into other areas of economic cooperation – potentially strengthening the overall ties between Israel and its neighbors, as well as increasing the wider regional cooperation.  

*Interview conducted by Peter Stevenson, East Mediterranean Editor.