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Exclusive Talks With Ayalon Vaniche – CEO, EDF Renewables Israel

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In an insightful interview with SolarQuarter Middle East Magazine, Mr. Ayalon Vaniche –  CEO, EDF Renewables Israel gave us deep insights into the renewable energy mix of Israel. He spoke about the major projects executed by their company in the region and currently installed capacity. He mentioned EDF’s Solar+Storage focus and its future projects and growth plans. 

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1. How is Israel currently positioned in meeting the government’s objective of increasing solar energy’s contribution to the energy mix to 30% by 2030? 

Israel is clearly behind the roadmap it has decided a few years ago. Renewable energies represent only 6-7% of the electricity consumption, while the intermediary target was to reach 10% by the end of 2020. This means that the second intermediary target of 20% in 2025 represents a huge challenge that requires immediate, strong and brave decisions. In order to build and connect enough power plants by 2025, we urgently need further increases in the volume of projects authorized now, in 2021 or 2022, not 2024, through new production quotas with tariffs for medium-voltage and high-voltage projects. But much more important than announcing projects is to be able to build the projects for which quotas are attributed. The government should lead better cooperation and engagement of all the stakeholders. It should reinforce the message that we need such projects, and we cannot afford to waste any single opportunity to build a solar field or wind turbine. The country needs a drastic simplification of the procedures for allocation of land rights, and mobilization of the authorities for heavy investments in the national electricity grid. The reinforcement of the transportation lines, the main distribution lines and the substations in the desertic areas is needed to eliminate the main bottlenecks for the connection of the new power plants. Only then will Israel have a chance to reach the 20% target of 2025 and the 30% target of 2030.

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2. EDF Renewables has recently commissioned the 60 MW Timna solar power plant located in Israel’s Arava Desert. How comes it took so long to complete this project?

We see it rather as a quick and successful project! It is true that the State and the Regional Council started to work on it a dozen years ago, but when EDF Renewables won the tender organized by the Land Authority in July 2016, we had to start all the zoning and development from zero. Timna is close to a spectacular natural reserve, and the land plot on which we were supposed to build is crossed by several infrastructures. We managed the process of new zoning at the Committee for National Infrastructures within a record time, including a complex design that addresses many engineering and environmental challenges. We had to fight against bureaucracy, up to the Supreme Court, in order to obtain all the authorizations required for the building permit. Once we overcame all this, the construction of the PV field itself took less than one year. The construction and the certification of our private substation (step-up to 161,000 V) took a few months more and, overall, we completed the construction 18 months before the deadline set by the tender! We see it as a huge achievement, considering that Timna is by many aspects the most advanced solar project connected in Israel, in terms of performance, of services to the grid and of protection of the environment.

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3. What is EDF Renewable’s current installed capacity in the country? What new projects are you coming up with?

We currently operate 20 projects connected to the grid, with a total installed capacity of 394 MWp, which makes of EdF Renewables the clear leader of solar energy in Israel. We completed the construction of 3 more projects that will be connected to the grid in the coming weeks (31 MWp). We are currently building 9 additional medium-voltage projects, including our first 3 floating projects (for a total of 34 MWp) and 6 ground-mounted projects (total of 70 MWp). In Ashalim, the record-breaking BOT project that we won in a tender organized by the Ministry of Finance, we almost completed the building permit, and before the end of 2021, we will reach the financial closing of our second PV field (42 MWp).

4. How is Solar+ Storage coming up in the country? What is EDF’s focus on the same?

The Regulator launched two auctions for PV+Storage projects in 2020 and attributed massive quotas: overall 800 MWe of grid connection applications for such projects, requiring 3.2 GWh of batteries. In 2020, this represented the equivalent of the commitments made by all the European countries together in terms of storage at the horizon of 2023. The problem is the congestion of the grid, as the national grid operator is not able to approve so many connection requests. The tariff attributed for PV+Storage was challenging since it was similar to the previous tariff for PV only, and this was before the tough implications of COVID 19 on the markets and the increase of raw materials and logistics costs that we saw in 2021. EDF Renewables Israel won a 90 MWe quota and applied for 19 grid connections for a total of some 220 MWp, so we are clearly “on it”.

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5. What are the growth goals of EDF for the upcoming year 2022?

In 2022, we will start the construction of Ashalim and the PV+Storage projects that I mentioned previously. We will also launch the construction of a new generation of floating projects, using the 50 MWe of connection rights that we won last year. We will be more present in the segment of rooftops: we won the large tender organized by the municipality of Netanya, and see nice progress in other tenders and development efforts that we conduct with our local partner Volta-Solar. And we will launch the construction of our first wind turbines projects in Israel, located in the Jezreel valley. We see 2022 as another year during which we will increase our portfolio of projects by more than 50%!

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