Israeli consumers are in for big changes to their car-buying habits over the coming decade following the government’s commitment to discontinue the import of conventional petrol and diesel-powered cars by 2030, replacing them with a line-up of new-age electric vehicles.
In the announcement, Israel Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz revealed plans to ban the import of petrol and diesel cars over the next 12 years, and phase in the adoption of electric, plug-in and hybrid passenger vehicles nationwide.
The plan also includes increasing the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) for buses, sourced from offshore reserves of the clean-burning fossil fuel and fed domestically through the nation’s converted power stations.
According to figures from Israel’s Ministry of Energy, transportation accounts for approximately 41% of consumption of primary energy, with buses representing a significant portion of this amount.
United Nations report
Mr Steinitz’s announcement is part of a greater strategy to wean Israel off petrol, diesel and coal and was announced a day after a UN’s report on climate change called for major adjustments to the way the world uses energy.
The report claimed a global reduction in carbon dioxide emissions over the next decade would need to total more than 1 billion tonnes per year – or more than the current emissions of all but a few of the very largest-emitting countries.
It also called for a “total or near-total phaseout” of coal burning by 2050.
Under Israel’s latest plan, Mr Steinitz said the government would aim to create a “critical mass” of EVs to start with and subsequently move to full independence from fossil fuels.
The “tipping point” would occur around 2025 he said, when there will be an estimated 177,000 EVs on Israel’s roads compared to just a few hundred today.
Enabling this would be incentives such as reduced new vehicle taxes and the installation of more than 2,000 charging stations across the country.
Israel’s government is expected to formally approve the plan by year end.
Life in the slow lane
Israel has long been in the slow lane of eco-innovation – of an estimated 3.5 million vehicles currently on the nation’s roads and another 230,000 being added each year via new car sales, only 700 are believed to be EVs, while another 2,500 are charged hybrids.
It’s an impressively low figure in light of world EV adoption trends, with the lag reportedly due to the country’s traditional dependence on petrol, diesel and other emission-generating fuels.
A 2018 study by Knesset (Israel’s house of representatives) found that while Israel was offering various incentives to promote EVs such as reduced purchase taxes, a discount on the value of use, and grants for deploying charging stations, figures for the actual number of EVs in Israel “indicate that these measures have not led to significant penetration, and that EVs face significant entry barriers in Israel”.
These barriers are believed to include the absence of adequate charging infrastructure and lack of public action on the matter.
Industry experts believe Israel can bridge the gap and meet its 2030 target if more supporting infrastructures and consumer incentives are put in place.
If that occurs, the country could well meet the predictions outlined in recent research conducted by Israel’s Institute of Technology, which claims between 7,000 and 30,000 EVs could be on Israeli roads just two years from now.
That number could grow to between 83,000 and 127,000 by 2025, and to as many 500,000 by 2030, after which time new car buyers will have no choice but to go electric.
Israel’s bounty of offshore reserves may hold part of the answer to the nation’s vehicle emissions dilemmas.
Experts say an estimated 2.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lying in the Karish and Tanin gas fields – discovered by Noble Energy in 2012 and now operated by Greek oil and gas company Energean – along with the earlier Tamar and Leviathan finds (operated by Noble), may allow Israel to become energy-independent for the first time in its history.
Tamar has been supplying the country with around 65% of its power needs since 2013 and Leviathan will provide additional energy security when it commences production in 2019.
Karish and Tanin are expected to jointly supply an estimated 88 billion cubic metres of natural gas and 44 million barrels of liquids to the regional Israeli market, as well as international markets when the projects start up in 2021.
CNG produced from these fields is considered a prime alternative fuel choice due to its availability and “clean” reputation, its safety compared to liquefied petroleum gas and its price point compared to diesel and petrol.
While global demand for CNG as an eco-friendly fuel choice in buses, trucks, taxis and passenger cars is growing, the fuel’s popularity in Israel is yet to gather speed.
According to a 2014 banking sector report, CNG for buses is a proven cost-effective technology, but Israel is not expected to make a “meaningful adoption” of it as a transportation fuel until after 2025.
“Prudent government policy to support a transition in Israeli bus fleets to natural gas would provide incentive for gas infrastructure to be built to initially serve the public transit segment,” the report said.
“Once widespread infrastructure is built, taxi and truck fleets could then economically and logistically be transitioned to CNG, followed by possible significant adoption by private vehicle owners.”