The development of the massive gas fields off Israel’s coast in the Mediterranean (“Energy Promise In The Promised Land,” Dec. 20) holds the potential of energy independence for the State of Israel; unfortunately it also highlights the ways in which the political impediments inherent in the running of the country can hamper legitimate technological and economic progress.
Israel currently spends over 5 percent of its GDP on imported oil, and that expenditure represents a significant contributor to their trade imbalance and an obvious drag on GDP. While many countries are in a similar situation, Israel has the technological infrastructure to change that condition in a very short period of time. I refer to the electric car company Better Place.
Israel was essentially the testing ground for a unique approach to the spread of electric vehicles via Better Place. The fact that the country is both relatively small and fully isolated makes it ideal for cars with a relatively short range, and the company built a network of battery-swapping stations at intervals that allowed any point in the country to be reached without running out of “fuel.” Although Tesla and hybrid cars have been successful in the U.S., Better Place was unable to gain sufficient traction, and the company declared bankruptcy in late-May.
The Israel Electric Company has contracted to buy over 42 billion cubic meters of gas over the next 15 years from the gas fields that are being developed; this will presumably lead to much lower utility costs for Israeli consumers in the near future. This increased supply of cheaper electric power is a natural fit for an electric car company, particularly given the high tariffs on imported oil in Israel.
Cheaper power will make the electric car advantage even more pronounced and widespread acceptance has the potential to legitimately reduce oil imports, leading to a meaningful boost in the country’s balance of trade.
The continued existence and operation of Better Place (or its successor) is a legitimate strategic priority for the State of Israel, and given that the private operators who might have taken the company out of bankruptcy failed to do so, the government should enter the fray very soon, before the constituent assets are sold. Only then would the full promise of the Israeli gas fields be realized.