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Israel, Jordan to cooperate on solar, water projects

06 December 2021 Kevin Adler

Israel and Jordan in November signed what the countries' governments called "the largest-ever cooperation agreement" between the nations, a deal that could result in a new solar PV power plant in Jordan that will generate electricity for Israel, while Israel will sell Jordan additional clean water from desalination plants.

The solar PV plant will have a capacity of 600 MW. Israel will supply up to 200 million cubic meters of desalinated water per year to Jordan under the deal, doubling the amount of water it currently has promised to sell to Jordan.

For both countries, the deal helps solve climate change problems: energy in Israel, and water in Jordan.

Climate change is exacerbating an immense water resources problem in Jordan, said Minister of Water and Irrigation, Mohammad Al-Najjar at the signing event at the Dubai Expo in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). "Climate change and the influx of refugees have further exacerbated Jordan's water challenges, however, there are many opportunities for regional cooperation to help increase sustainability in the sector," he said.

Energy ministries of both countries could not be reached by Net-Zero Business Daily for further information on how the power-for-water swap might work, nor any further details on a timetable.

"The benefit of this agreement is not only in the form of green electricity or desalinated water, but also the strengthening of relations with the neighbor that has the longest border with Israel," Israel's Energy Minister Karine Elharrar said at the signing ceremony.

The agreement was brokered by the UAE, and a UAE firm will build the PV plant in Jordan, she added.

"This is very much climate-driven [as shown by] the language of the declaration itself," said Gidon Bromberg, Israel director of EcoPeace, a nonprofit that brings together Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli environmentalists. "[It is] influenced by the report of EcoPeace Middle East calling for a 'Green-Blue Deal' and, in particular, our water-energy exchange chapter of the report," he told Net-Zero Business Daily by email on 3 December.

The Green-Blue Deal seeks to create a "water-energy nexus" in for Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians that can provide clean water, clean energy, and rehabilitate the Jordan River.

"There is agreed knowledge in both Israel and Jordan that the climate crisis is real—and this is changing attitudes at the government level that cooperation is necessary," Bromberg said.

It was the second energy-related cross-border announcement for Israel in the last few weeks, as Elharrar and Egypt's Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek El Molla signed a memorandum of understanding to expand their joint exports of natural gas and the possibility of using existing gas pipelines for hydrogen delivery in the future.

Unusual project

"It's an interesting and unusual project because of the collaboration between the three countries," said Silvia Macri, IHS Markit principal research manager.

Israel's other primary option for adding to its renewable power profile would be to build more solar PV capacity in the southern part of the country, Macri said. Solar PV provides about 90% of the country's current 3 GW of renewable capacity. But the desert locations are distant from the demand centers in the central and northern parts of the nation, which potentially makes a power line from Jordan a less expensive proposition.

However, the agreements do not mean that the projects will be built, as the announcement said only that feasibility studies will begin in 2022. The Jerusalem Post newspaper reported public demonstrations against the deal in Jordan and statements by prominent political leaders that they oppose "normalization" of relations with Israel, such as economic cooperation.

"It's one thing to have a foreign company investing in assets serving the specific market where those are located," said Macri, which would be the case if, for example, the UAE invested directly in renewable projects in Israel, which it has reportedly been investigating. "It's another thing to build and rely on an asset in another country, particularly if future [energy] trade may be challenging," she said.

If the deal sticks, it represents an example of how the "Abraham Accords," signed in September 2020, are changing relations in the Middle East. The Abraham Accords are bilateral agreements signed in 2020 for expanded diplomatic and economic relations between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan (each as bilateral agreements). The US under the Trump administration facilitated the agreement between the UAE and Israel, and the Biden administration has held meetings to expand the number of countries associated with the Abraham Accords and to build on the baselines of the existing agreements.

Indicative of US interest in the process, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry was on hand for the announcement of the Israel-Jordan pact. "Today's initiative is a welcome example of how cooperation can accelerate the energy transition and build greater resilience to the impacts of climate change," Kerry said. "The United States is impressed by the courageous and creative steps by the parties that made this declaration possible, and looks forward to working with the parties, as well as with others in the region and around the world, to turn our shared climate challenge into an opportunity to build a more prosperous future."

According to the US State Department, Kerry traveled to Amman, Jordan on 5 December to "discuss how the region can collaborate to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change."

Water in Jordan

Al-Najjar said that Jordan "is considered the second-most water-scarce country in the world," with annual renewable water resources of 80 cubic meters (cbm)/person, compared with 500 cbm/person, which is defined as "severe water scarcity" by the UN.

According to Israeli media, as recently as a year ago, the country was selling 50 million cbm of water annually to Jordan. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who took office in June, promised to raise it to 100 cbm and then to 200 cbm in October. If the new deal is completed, that amount will double again.

Bromberg explained that the economic benefits to both countries are substantial, and this is why he believes the agreement will go ahead. He said that the water from Israel and the power from Jordan are cheaper than either country "would struggle to produce" on its own. "There are still details that need to be worked out, but the underlying economic drivers are clear. It's geopolitical challenges in the Middle East that are so unpredictable," he said.

Israel's energy picture

Israel is moving towards a low-GHG target under its nationally determined contribution (NDC), though with the hard work backloaded after the end of this decade.

In an update to its NDC towards meeting the Paris Climate goals, Israel promised "an unconditional absolute greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal for 2030 of 27% relative to 2015 and an unconditional absolute GHG emissions reduction goal for 2050 of 85% relative to 2015."

Israel's National Energy Efficiency Plan, updated in November, seeks to reduce energy intensity across the economy by 18% from 2015 levels by 2030, as another key part of the country's GHG emissions reductions strategy.

A report authored by Macri in August indicates that Israel has a goal of 20% renewable generation by 2025 and 30% by 2030, leaving most power to be provided by natural gas. Gas accounted for about 44% and coal 25% of capacity as of the end of 2020.

The report notes that Israel has limited land available for large-capacity solar projects, and that the best prospects are in southern areas, where two concentrating solar power projects (total capacity 242 MW) were added in 2019. But limited power transmission is a significant problem. Wind power has potential, but the Ministry of Defense has raised opposition to some proposals, as have local residents and environmental groups, Macri wrote.

Given the right market incentives, IHS Markit says that Israel could have 16 GW of new on-grid renewables by 2050.

Middle East energy transition

Macri noted that the UAE has a net-zero goal of 2050, and Saudi Arabia announced the same goal just before the COP26 meeting. "Egypt probably will be next, given that COP27 is happening there in 2022. Morocco also is quite advanced in its renewables sector," Macri said.

UAE will be the host of COP28 in 2023, yet another reason to focus attention on how climate change can be mitigated in the Middle East.

Jordan's NDC, updated in October, aims for a 31% reduction GHG emissions by 2030, compared with a business-as-usual scenario. It noted the nation's loss of "its natural and fixed assets owing to climate change," including water, cultural sites, and infrastructure.

EcoPeace has identified other potential "climate entry points" for additional deals between Middle East nations that involve Palestinians, Bromberg said. "We saw from the outset the importance of dealing with wider issues in the region through the climate and security lens," he said. "The climate crisis hits the whole region in a particular way, and therefore a regional response is needed. Only responding at the national level is insufficient to meet the very serious challenges presented."

Posted 06 December 2021 by Kevin Adler, Chief Editor

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