Israel: there was a potential for 7,000 MW of wind power

Thirty-six years of “tilting at windmills” and attempting to promote the large-scale adoption of wind turbines to generate electricity has given Eli Ben-Dov a cutting wit that almost masks his frustration with government bureaucracy.  Ben-Dov, who was the guest lecturer at the Holon Institute of Technology’s “Window to a Vision” seminar late last week, began measuring wind energy potential in Israel in 1974 during the OPEC oil crisis.

He spent years working for the Israel Electric Corporation building measurement devices and meticulously recording the wind speeds and other factors that govern the production of electricity using wind turbines. In 2006, he left the IEC to manage Afcon E.B. Wind Energy Ltd, a private wind farm contractor, part of the Afcon Industries Group.

In a surprisingly well-attended lecture for the first week of the summer semester, Ben-Dov made the case for wind as Israel’s main source of alternative energy, in a presentation laden with equal amounts of quips and technical jargon.

“Over the last 10 years, wind energy has multiplied a lot around the world. At decade’s start, 17,734 megawatts had been installed. Now, there are about 160,000 MW installed,” Ben-Dov said. The top three countries are Germany, at 25,000 MW; Spain, at nearly 18,000; and Denmark, with 3,384, which represents 20 percent of the country’s electricity demand.

By comparison, in the Middle East, there are just 835 MW installed. Egypt has installed 450 MW and plans to install another 200. In Israel today, despite 36 years of Ben-Dov’s efforts, there are only six MW installed in a wind farm. Afcon is now working on adding another 22 MW.

However, Ben-Dov said that with a feed-in tariff of 60 agorot per kilowatt hour, there was a potential for 7,000 MW. Demand for electricity currently stands at just over 10,000 MW nationwide. A feed-in tariff is the price at which the government will buy electricity from private producers guaranteed for 20 years.

While the government will never rely on wind energy as its main source of fuel, Ben- Dov was trying to make the point that, despite official skepticism and the many bureaucratic hoops he has had to leap through, wind energy could be a respectable contributor to Israel’s fuel basket.

Turning to a comparison with solar energy, Ben-Dov contended that wind turbines produced more energy per dunam than standard solar photovoltaic panels and required far less land.

Furthermore, he said, they could be profitable with a feed-in tariff of 60 agorot, rather than the NIS 1.50 being offered today for medium- sized solar fields.

He also noted that it took about four days to set up a wind turbine, implying that the installation process was far shorter than that of a solar field.

While few think of Israel as a particularly windswept country, Ben-Dov vigorously maintained that his measurements revealed that there was enough wind in Israel for wind farms. He refused to divulge his measurements, calling them classified business information.

Others in the field have also contended that there was enough wind, although the IEC has remained somewhat skeptical as to its overall potential. However, Ben-Dov also noted the many steps a wind farm needed to go through before getting a license.

“In 10 years of working through the application process, I have yet to receive a license,” he said. The Holon Institute of Technology (HIT) was a fitting host for Ben-Dov’s lecture.

By Ehud Zion Waldoks,