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Energy Forum 1: Electricity from Photovoltaic Systems

Prof. Gershon Grossman , Prof. Ofira Ayalon
Cite As:
Grossman Gershon , Ayalon Ofira . Energy Forum 1: Electricity from Photovoltaic Systems Haifa Israel: Samuel Neaman Institute, 2006.

The Samuel Neaman Institute for Advanced Research in Science and Technology, within the framework of its activity in the energy field, conducts meetings of the Energy Forum, devoted to discussions and debate over energy related issues of national importace.

The Energy Forum holds focused discussions regarding specified themes, and teams of subject-matter experts are invited to participate. The aim of these focused debates is to deliberate over specific and relevant questions; enable dialogue and coordination between participating bodies; and develop recommendations on implementation strategies for advancing the subject at hand that could then be presented to decision-makers.

The Government of Israel has previously passed two resolutions intended to advance the use of Clean Energy. The first resolution addressed the development of technologies for effective use of alternative energy sources (1998) and the second addressed policies for electricity production from renewable energy (2002).

In light of these resolutions, the first thematic meeting of the Energy Forum was devoted to the subject of Solar Photovoltaic (PV) electricity production, a subjectthat has gained considerable interest and saw substantial development, worldwide, in recent years. The meeting was held at the Samuel Neaman Institute at the Technion on February 13th 2006 with over 20 experts on the subject, from industry, academia, governmental departments and the public sector participating.

The Forum participants were selected with great care for their thematic expertise and have formed, undoubtedly, a unique group of first-rate professionals in the energy field in general, and in solar photovoltaic systems, in particular.

During the first part of the meeting several participants presented information on worldwide and Israeli activities in the area of Photovoltaics, discussing technological and economic considerations along with incentives offered by different nations to encourage production of clean electricity from photovoltaic systems.

A complete record of the presentations can be found here

During the second part of the meeting the participants engaged in an open discussion of the issues presented and the operative conclusions that could be derived from them.

This brief synopsis provides highlights of the Summary and Conclusions chapter from the full report (in Hebrew). The goal is to present these recommendations to decision makers and create the momentum for placing the State of Israel in the forefront of nations developing and using green energy. Forum participants were in complete agreement about the need for public awareness campaigns, hoping that it will serve as a call to action for regulators and government legislators. 

Summary and Conclusions

Photovoltaic systems are becoming increasingly important amongst renewable energy sources used to generate electricity, and their utilization growth rate exceeds that of other sources despite their comparatively high cost. Worldwide installed capacity of electricity generated by photovoltaic systems currently exceeds 2GW with a growth rate of 30% per annum, valued at 7 billion dollars. The photovoltaic cells technology, which in the past was very expensive, has developed very quickly and the global price has decreased to $5,000-6,000 per kilowatt-peak (in megawatts sized systems) this amounts to about half of what it used to be five to ten years ago. Today, one of the obstacles preventing rapid growth of this industry is the worldwide shortage of crystalline silicon (which can be produced from abundantly available, cheap material). Yet, with the growing efforts and with increased investments it can be expected that this problem will be overcome and the price will continue to decline. Several countries, predominantly China and Japan, have set targets for themselves of building, at huge investments, PV cells production capacity that could supply the whole world.

The efficiency of existing silicon panels reaches about 17%. Concurrent to these panels another technology has been developed, utilizing Multi-Junction type solar cells coupled with radiation concentration (CPV) that has been utilized in the space industry. These systems would be able to obtain enhanced efficiency (currently reaching approximately 35%). The price of these cells is quite high but their integration within an optical concentrator unit enables the reduction of the system's cost yet allows for several different possibilities of utilization of the residual heat that same solar energy residue that impinges on the solar cell that is not converted into electricity.

Several developed countries provide generous subsidies for photovoltaic electricity generation within the framework of an overall program that encourages increased utilization of solar energy. During the Forum discussions information was presented on the prices paid for photovoltaic generated electricity in several European countries. For example, in Germany“ 0.45-0.60 Euros/kWhr; in France 0.087- 0.153 Euros/kWhr; and in Austria 0.036“ 0.073 Euros/kWhr. In Korea the support reaches up to 0.57 Euros/kWhr.

Such a commitment from the authorities provides the leverage for entrepreneurs seeking financial support for photovoltaic projects in these countries. In the USA and Japan there are subsidy programs that apply both to the capital investments and to the price of electricity sold to the grid.

In Israel today the market is small and insignificant. There are neither incentives nor programs that enable inclusion of PV systems in the grid. Under conditions like these even Israeli companies are forced to move the majority of their operations out of the country. The cost of a system in Israel today is about $10/Wp for small systems and up to $7-9/Wp for Megawatt-sized systems. The Forum discussed the administrative and economic failures in R&D in the field; the production of PV systems in Israel; the application of such systems in the country; and the ways of supporting these systems that are in following with the spirit of the government's decisions cited below.

Forum participants discussed the need for, and the means of, encouraging the installation of PV systems in Israel. There is no doubt that systems such as these can contribute to improvements in environmental quality and could free the country, to a certain extent, from dependence on imported fuels, when replacing conventional systems. Due to the high cost of such systems there ought to be government incentives along with incentives offered by other institutions as is common throughout the world. In this regard there is also a need to investigate the relative merit of PV systems in relation to other green energy technologies. The Public Utility Authority - Electricity presented at the Forum an incentive scheme that is currently being prepared. The current, cumbersome process of receiving authorization and licensing from the Israel Electric Company, which makes connecting PV systems in Israel quite difficult, has been discussed.

The government is working to settle the grid connections (Connectivity Protocol) issue as well as the licensing issue in the new regulations.

Due to the wide knowledge currently existing and the experience that has accumulated in the country, and due to the fact that Israel is a sun-blessed country, Israel could - and should - become a first-rate center for R&D in the field of PV systems. For the sake of comparison, Denmark has become a technological Powerhouse in the field of Wind Energy.

As far as the production of PV systems in Israel, there is agreement that Israel would be hard pressed to compete with the cheap labor in South East Asian countries. Yet, there is certainly a place for production of various component types and systems integration that could lead to the formation of an industry that could produce a variety of employment opportunities. The Israel Aircraft Industry presented a module of concentrated PV cells intended as an energy source for satellites an Israeli-made technological system produced by automation. Production is a decisive factor in technological implementation. In all countries where the subject of Solar PV has advanced there is also production.

Solar PV was addressed at the Forum from a strategic and an economic perspective of the Israeli energy market for the next few years. For various reasons it is not possible to rely solely on market powers for the introduction of photovoltaic technology and the government must be urged to act to bring Israel on par with developed countries in this area. Simultaneously, other methods should be investigated within the overall context of the Israeli Sustainable Development program and there should be a comprehensive assessment of the cost to society of the various methods.

Forum participants agreed that government intervention is required and that there might be a need for a non-political lobbying body to raise awareness both in Parliament and with the public at large in order to bring about this desired change.

It has been suggested to form a body that will continue to work on the issue in conjunction with government offices.


1. The government should, first and foremost, implement its own decisions and work towards development of effective renewable energy technologies and by so doing reduce the dependence of Israel on imported fuel as well as reduce air pollution.

2. The government should put into effect its decision to encourage the installation of electric generating facilities and plants that are based on renewable energy sources and supply increasing levels of green electricity in the overall mix.

3. The government should invest in R&D in the area of renewable energy, particularly in the solar area, and thus preserve the large body of knowledge and experience, as well as the reputation that Israel has garnered in this field.

4. A realistic and authentic pricing system that internalizes external costs associated with conventional power generation systems is needed. Also needed are economic incentives in order to encourage the installation of clean technologies for electricity production as is the practice worldwide.

5. Local production of specific components of the PV systems is important both for the employment opportunities it generates and for maintaining uniqueness and independence in the field.

6. Upon the inauguration of the 17th Knesset, it is suggested that an idependent body should be formed that will act in accordance with these recommendations and will collaborate with relevant government offices

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