Yonatan Dubi is a physicist and one of the founders of the Israeli Forum for Rational Environmentalism. In this episode, Dubi talks about the history of Israeli energy including the massive offshore natural gas discoveries, the recent Druze protests against wind energy in the Golan Heights, why solar, even in sunny Israel “fails completely,” and why he is pushing hard for nuclear energy in his home country. (Recorded August 17, 2023)  

Episode Transcript

Robert Bryce  0:04  
Hi, everyone, welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics and I’m pleased to welcome the first Israeli guest on the podcast. My new friend Jana tun. Dooby is in the department of he’s a chemistry professor at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. Yoni Welcome to the power hungry podcast.

Yonatan Dubi  0:27  
Thank you, Robert. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Robert Bryce  0:30  
So you only I didn’t warn you. But I think you’ve listened to the podcast before and your guests introduce themselves. So I’ve given your title, you’re a chemistry professor. And we will talk about Israeli energy politics here in just a moment. But before you do that, before we do that, you know, the routine You’ve arrived somewhere you don’t know anyone you have 60 seconds to introduce yourself, please introduce yourself. Okay.

Yonatan Dubi  0:51  
Thank you. So first, well, I’m a father of four happily remarried. Um, that’s the most important part, I guess, agree. I’m from the professional side, I graduated in 2007. I did my PhD in theoretical physics here at Ben Gurion University where I now work. And then after a PhD, I spent three years in the US in San Diego and then in Los Alamos, are working to understand how electric currents and energy pass through very small things like molecules and layers and things like that. I came back to Israel in 2010 had a two year stint in an industry research projects, basically trying to get ideas from nanotechnology, and use them in energy conversion, which is where I learned everything I know about solar panels, and calculating watts per dollar and things like that. Since 2012, I went back to academia. And I’ve been there ever since. But most importantly, since I knew a little bit about solar panels, I started listening to the media about what these things can do. And I started to sense that something is wrong, and it took some time. But eventually me and together with other colleagues found what we now call the Israeli forum for national environmentalism, which is basically an advocacy group for promoting, I would say balanced discussion on on topics of climate, energy and the environment.

Robert Bryce  2:28  
And the Israeli forum for rational environmentalism. We spoke some weeks ago when we were getting ready to talking about doing this podcast. And so this is an informal group. Is it a formal group? The Bible is a nonprofit, you know, in the US, we have Zoo.

Yonatan Dubi  2:44  
Well, in the process, yes, we are in the process of making it a formal nonprofit organization. But for now, it’s basically an infrastructure setting. So basically just a group of people with a lot of no help between us because we have academics. And we have professionals, and we have lawyers, and we have engineers. And so a lot of know how between us and we, and we publish through public media, and we a talk to policymakers and decision makers and politicians. And we talk to school kids a lot things like that.

Robert Bryce  3:23  
Gotcha. Well, so let’s let’s dive into the energy part of this because Israel is an fascinating place. I don’t pretend to be an expert. I’ve been there twice. I’ve written a little bit about Israeli energy politics. I wrote about it more recently, with the air, the Golan Heights controversy with the wind project there with the Druze rioting, opposing that wind project, I’ll come back to that. But the thing that to me from it, you know, obviously a great distance and having been there twice and seeing how that situation and chain has changed in Israel. I mean, it’s, I don’t know a more radical change in terms of energy, politics, energy resources than what’s happened in Israel. Over the past 20 years or so the joke has always been a will of God love the Israelis or God loved the Jews. Why didn’t they give them oil, right? And they gave it all to the Saudis in the Arab there are the Muslims and not the Jews. But then 20 years or so ago, roughly. Now, then there were big discoveries and there have been big discoveries since then. And offshore Israeli waters, massive gas deposits, right. I’ve given the kind of the tee up on this, but walk us through Yoni how that Yeah. Yeah, it’s really energy politics.

Yonatan Dubi  4:36  
Right. So first, let’s get some numbers. So people would appreciate what we’re talking about. Israel is very, very small. It’s about the size of New Jersey, in terms of population were about 9.2 million so roughly New Jersey, in terms of area not slightly larger than New Jersey, but not by much and more Most importantly, in terms of energy, one must consider two things which are extremely important when thinking about Israel as as a Western country, first, we are an island in terms of energy, I mean, we are not physically an island. But we have no neighbors from which we can buy two or almost no neighbors for which you can sell electricity to. So our electric grid is basically a completely isolated to one must appreciate that Israel is always in a unique, I will say, security situation. And politics in the neighborhood are quite complex, and security and military issues of always top priority in Israel. And this also, of course, a is related to energy, a policy because Israel cannot afford substantial blackouts and you know, lack of power, right? We just cannot do that. So I’m indeed until maybe 14 years ago till let’s go ahead and before till the early 2000s Is that I did not use natural gas at all right, all we had is cold. And in 2002, there was a small a small discovery of of reservoir called medidas, of what it had about 30 to 30 32 billion cubic meters of cubic meters final you do you need to translate it to cubic feet, I just multiply by 30 or something. But that was a small reservoir. But it gave the hint that there are all that there is natural gas in the Middle East, right, which is tiny pond, in terms of you compare it to the Atlantic or to the north face, you know, just a small pond. But it turns out, there’s quite a lot. And in 2009, and 10, there were two huge, huge discoveries. One reservoir called thermal, which has about 300 billion cubic feet, and the other one called the Leviathan, which has more than full 100 A

Robert Bryce  7:34  
billion billion cubic meters, so just immediately, so I just looked him up. So it’s, yeah, it’s tomorrow and Leviathan for me. You can convert a billion cubic meters, but tomorrow is about to 11 trillion cubic feet and leviathans 22 trillion. And then since then, you’ve had dolphin the TuneIn, Karish. Zeus, Athena, exactly. aeromonas. And, and Khatlon. You know, this is a world class gas deposits offshore Israel that has now changed. And in fact, there was one thing I just looked up that I think it was, in February, Israel exported crude oil for the very first time, which was, I guess, gas condensate for the most part, but that’s what I’m guessing. But so this, this backdrop of, of going from complete energy importation, right, including this necessity of trying to find the source crude, globally, and not from the your Arab OPEC neighbors, but then now to being one of the big players in the gas market, potentially globally, possibly at the possibility of Israel exporting gas to Egypt, so Egypt could convert it into LNG for international export. I mean, it’s an amazing story. Right. So it’s noble, Noble Energy was the one that made the first discovery is that right?

Yonatan Dubi  8:52  
Yes. Yeah, the US company was a it was a partnership between non Noble Energy and a local company. And and it was a game changer. Yeah, for the Israeli economy and for the Israeli a geopolitical status. And so it took some time. I mean, these were discovered around 2009 2010. But we only started using the gas in 2017. Because of Israeli politics, which are a always unique, and most of it were internal politics, because A, there was a huge debate on who should benefit from these gas deposits. Should it be the government or should it be the private investors or should it be the some combination? So this took a lot of time. But once this was settled, the infrastructure was put in place in less than a year. And we now a use about 10 to 13 billion cubic meters for our own and we export to Egypt, about 5 billion cubic meters, and to Jordan, about two or three cubic meters a year. And as you said, this was a game changer for two reasons. First of all, if you look at the last two years, you’ve seen huge fluctuations in a gas prices, when Ergo electricity prices in in Europe, and, you know, these huge fluctuations and, and spot prices, which will, you know, 15x, the number, a 2020, and Israel’s a gas prices and electricity prices remained essentially constant throughout this time, which was a quite amazing, this was also important because of the COVID crisis, which at the same time, so everything got crazy around us. But in terms of a power costs and gas costs, Israel was very a stable, right. And we also were able to, to support our neighbors with a natural gas. And Egypt buys the natural gas, some of it is used in Egypt, and some of it is liquefied, and shipped to a southern Europe, where it is a where they have in a facilities to use that. So it really is a geopolitical game changer. And the amazing thing is that this will last for 30 years, at least, right? Because there’s a lot of, of natural gas them. And you could see the implications of this. In late 2021, there was a special emissary from the EU, that came to Israel, and sat down with the Israelis and the Egyptian delegation delegates and and told them essentially, every molecule of natural gas that you have, we will buy and name your price. Because they were trying to lose the the dependency on Russian natural gas. Right. So they said just name your price. And, you know, we named our price, and it’s very high. This will contract signed for a I think I don’t remember the number 15 or 20 or so. So this is a good deal for both Israel and Egypt. Not so much for the European but they played, you know, a bad hand. So,

Robert Bryce  12:49  
right. So and that Israeli gas going into Egyptian liquefaction facilities for LNG export into Europe. Yes, well, so let’s talk about that. Because this is one of the other parts that I think is really important in terms of the geopolitics that you were discussing. And that is the east med pipeline, right, which has been a project that has been discussed for many years. And now that Israel is a major player in gas production in the region, that there was this possibility of moving that gas through a subsea pipeline from Israel into Europe. But the Biden administration came out opposed to this, you know, I can’t just I’ve been critical of this administration. They’re the most anti hydrocarbon administration in American history. I’m not saying that as a partisan, I think it’s just obviously a plain true statement. How important would the East med pipeline be if Israel could instead of going back through the Egyptian marketplace, send that gas directly into Europe? How much how beneficial would that be to Israel overall?

Yonatan Dubi  13:51  
Right. So so so let’s put some details on that. So the East Lead Pipeline is a long pipe. Yeah. And about 1000 miles of it would be underwater, right. So it’s a very complicated infrastructure. And it would take at least five years in the making, just to build the thing. And this was suggested some years ago, and to be a partnership between Israel and Greece and Italy, and maybe Turkey. And so it’s a great geopolitical tool for Israel, both economically and geopolitically and and politically. And indeed, the it was pushed very strongly by the Bush by the solid by the Trump administration, which essentially put it on the table and offered even financial guarantees. And then the Biden administration withdrew completely said that it’s unnecessary. However, in last year, is an Italian company suggested that they will finance it. So it’s still on the table.

Robert Bryce  15:12  
Well, that’s interesting. So the other part of this that I think is important to mention with regard to East med is that this would be gas that would be in part owned by an American company, right? Because Chevron bought noble Noble Energy was the company that discovered, as I recall tomorrow and Leviathan, and so then Chevron bought noble. So Chevron, an American company, a very large super major would have would benefit from the east med pipeline, and yet the Biden administration came out opposed to it. So that to me is just an interesting backdrop. And because pipelines, of course, are always controversial there, but they, as you say, and always geopolitically if they’re going long distances across several countries, incredibly complex in terms of the geopolitics but but the other part that to me is just as we stepped back a minute Yoni and, and by the way, let me just remind people, my guest is Jana Tong Dooby. You can find him at on substack h x stem.substack.com. You can also find him via the Google he has a number of YouTube videos out there. Yona Tom Dubey, D UBI, is how his last name is spelled. So he’s easy to find. But the overall geopolitics in the in the Middle East have changed a lot in the last just in the last few years. Now there’s rumors of even some kind of data between the Israelis and the Saudis, which is truly staggering, is truly staggering, you know, but it started, of course, with the Israel and Egypt and Anwar Sadat, and bakwin and Menaka, Bagan. And Carter, how important is a long way of getting to the question, how important were the Abraham Accords, which were, this is not directly energy related, but I think it’s important to kind of put the how Israel’s relationships with its neighbors have changed so dramatically in the last few years. So I’ll ask it again, how important were the Abraham accords?

Yonatan Dubi  17:06  
Well, I would say opinions differ on that. Sure. And Israel, right, this is kind of depends on which side of the political aisle you are on. But from my perspective, I’m unbelievably important. And we they are unbelievably, unbelievably important, important, economically important, geopolitically and important energetically, because and I don’t know how deep you want to go into the geopolitics. I mean, it has to do with the question of the Palestinian problem. And and the the, the, the doctrine of the American administration’s active Trump were, was that unless you solve the Palestinian problems, you cannot normalize the relation between a Israel and the Arab world. This was the doctrine and so all the presidents said, Okay, let’s first solve the Palestinian problem, which is indeed a very complicated and sensitive problem, both for the Israelis and the Palestinians, naturally, and Trump came by and of course, Trump, you know, shook the boat. And being the non orthodox guy that he is he told Jared Kushner, which was his a nephew and, and a new kind of Secretary of State and officially told them Okay, check this doctrine, let’s see if it stands. And it turned out that it could be changed. And so they bypassed the Palestinian problem, and went directly to the moderate Arab nations, the UVA and Dobby and so on, and struck Peace Corps it between Israel and and these Arab nations, which is mostly economical. But the economic part, which is of course important, is it does two things. First of all, it allows Israel to secure to some level, the import of oil, which is an important thing to any nation, of course, you know, about 30 of our primary energy uses oil like everyone else, every Western country, but it also was the first step for what we now see normalization with places like Saudi Arabia. Right. Now, Saudi Arabia is an extremely important a country in the Middle East, because it you know, you cannot exaggerate in its importance because it has its hands on the oil, oil a faucet right so In striking a deal with the Saudis, or at least not even normalizing relations with the Saudis would be a huge thing. Right.

Robert Bryce  20:08  
And that is, and that seems possible now. Whereas before the Abraham accords impossible,

Yonatan Dubi  20:14  
for sure. For sure. It’s definitely insert

Robert Bryce  20:17  
one quick because I’m no expert on geopolitics, I’m, you know, I study them, I follow it. But the Abraham accords for people who are like me, and not necessarily in the know on all of this. So the signatories were buffering, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Morocco, and the US and right, it was as Yoni was saying, normalizing relationships among those countries where, and that that potentially sets the groundwork then for a broader normalization of Israel with other the Arab states that it has in the past been at war with right so the first one was Egypt. But now Egypt is your close ally, because of in part because of this energy trade. And in Egypt is having blackouts and gas shortages as we record this. And just in the last few days, this, the news reports have been coming out of Egypt regarding that. So but just back, let’s tie the knot there back on or just finished that discussion on East med. So as I hear you saying East Med, was killed, but there’s another possibility that sent the Italians, would it be any or another Italian company would come in and take the place and say, well, we’ll build it, or we’ll get involved here and finance it, even though it’s 1000 miles. So this is a massively expensive project as well.

Yonatan Dubi  21:31  
Right? It’s a massively expensive project. And and the problem is that now that things will are in kind of an equilibrium in terms of gas prices, it’s not clear that it will be economical to start selling gas in 2027, which is when it will be built. Right. So it’s a long term project. It’s a financial risk, in some sense. Yeah. So um, I would say, the verdict is still out. Right? to Israel, it would be fantastic. It will substantiate what we call the southeast Mediterranean Alliance, Israel, Greece, Cyprus and Italy. It will be grateful that Europeans which need natural gas, but also within Israel, there is a discussion, do we want this or not? Because it will mean that we export more natural gas than was originally planned. Which means that there will be less for domestic use. Right. So unless we find more natural gas in the Middle East, there will be people who are strongly against that just because they want to keep gas used domestically and should have at last no facilities, but facilities. And this is a great discussion. I mean, it’s really an ongoing discussion on how much you have a natural gas reserve, how much of it you should sell, and how much of it you should keep? And it’s not only a financial question, because of course, it relates to what will be the prices 10 years from now, but it’s also in terms of Israel. A security issue, right, which is always always troubling us.

Robert Bryce  23:30  
Sure. Well, it’s interesting. You say that, because right. It’s like, well, this is now for the first not for the first time. I bet but I will I’ll say it. Yeah, for the first time. Israel has some measure of energy security, we want to keep it right. We don’t want to track. We don’t want to trade this away. You already we want to make sure we have we play the long game, right? Because that’s been a consideration since what 1947 Right, you’re exactly the we’re gonna play the long game. We’re not here. We’re not just camping here, we’re going to stick around.

Yonatan Dubi  23:59  
Right. And one of the things that the Israeli fallen from national environmentalism is advocating for is that 30 years should be enough, because by then we can build enough nuclear reactors.

Robert Bryce  24:14  
Okay, so let’s come back to nuclear. Let me just finish this discussion on gas because this is something else that I think is really interesting, and that is, I made a film I wrote about in my last book, and I was in Beirut and spent some time in Lebanon. And, again, don’t pretend to be an expert, but Israel and Lebanon have not been on good terms for a very long time. Right. There’s continuing cross border skirmishes, and you know, and occasional flare ups and occasional invasions. This but the other we know all of this right, Hezbollah and the Iranians have a strong foothold in Lebanon. But it was remarkable to me that the Israelis in the Lebanese government then made an agreement on a gas sharing deal on a gas field that straddles the Israeli Lebanese territorial waters which right to me is sick. nificant in a lot of ways, because these countries have been foes for so long, and yet, here’s one area where they could find some agreement. How important was that?

Yonatan Dubi  25:09  
Well, it’s hard to know yet because this gas field was not yet is not producing it. Okay. So so we don’t know. And this is, of course, it depends on on how well the Lebanese Government can build infrastructure. I think there’s a British company involved there. But I mean, in Hebrew, say we say, I mean, not from the love of Mordecai, but from the hatred to a man. I mean, this was clearly out. It’s not that there is huge love between these nations. And and we’ll put

Robert Bryce  25:45  
that as the understatement of the episode. Yeah, now you can just leave it there.

Yonatan Dubi  25:49  
I’ve been on the fence, and I’ve seen Lebanon many times. And it’s a huge, huge tragedy, what’s going on the Lebanon have Lebanese friends for my postdoc years. It’s an unbelievable tragedy. And, and one of the hallmarks of fallen state is the fact that they don’t have energy infrastructure. I just, I think yesterday, I read that the airport in Beirut, is using using a generators, right. It’s not connected to the grid. That’s an unbelievable tragedy. And from the Israeli perspective, the the if there’s anything we can do to stabilize the energy, infrastructure, enhance the economic situation, then it’s also better for the Israeli side, because when the state falls apart, there’s always civil unrest and turmoil. And on the other side of the fence, we’re gonna get rockets because this bola and other political things. We want to show up the strength on just for local reasons. Right.

Robert Bryce  27:03  
So So that’s interesting. And yeah, I mean, the Israeli the Lebanese grid, brother, I mean, electricity diddly bone has been a mess for years. And it’s made even worse since the port explosion went now two or three years ago, and but Lebanon, what a friend of mine call it a cocktail of the fast the factions and the factionalism in Lebanon have been ongoing for decades. And Hezbollah exploits exploits those factions to its own advantage. And, yeah, the it’s, it’s,

Yonatan Dubi  27:33  
I mean, if I could shout, I’m still doing I was, I had a good friend who’s of Lebanese origin. And he told me that, that essentially, the entire intelligencia of Lebanon fled after the Civil War, you know, circa 70,000 people, which is an unbelievable number of people, you know, doctors and PhDs and things like that. And, you know, we spoke a little bit about politics, and he says, your politicians are so great they are so you know, everyone looks at the politicians and say, Oh, my God, this is, you know, the worst kind of people. And he told me, You don’t understand how bad politics are in Lebanon is a failed state. And this was 2010. And since then, it keeps on deteriorating. This is I’m telling you, this is an amazing tragedy of a place with such beautiful potential. Yeah. Which is just in wounds for years. Yeah. So Israel, of course, wants to stabilize the situation as best it can. And this was, I think, one step in that direction. And mind you, there are probably details we do not know about this agreement, which are best left unknown and guessing, as always the case in these in the Middle East.

Robert Bryce  28:59  
Right? Well, I think a failed state is the is the right way to think about Lebanon and a deeply unfortunate, an amazing city, the amazing culture, amazing people, but just a mess and the port explosion and made it even worse. So let’s talk let’s I want to talk about this. I want to talk about solar, because this is your area, I want to talk about wind and then come to nuclear. So I wrote recently on my substack, about this wind project that it’s an Israeli company that is actually trying to develop it in the Golan Heights. And the times of Israel’s coverage I thought was very clear. I but your Prime Minister Netanyahu who has no shrinking violet has originally said that the he was going to allow construction on the wind project to begin again and that has not happened. So is this an indicative of the fact that Netanyahu is realizing the Druze have a strong hand there and they’re not going to allow this wind project to be developed it to me this is a very another yet another A clear example of the land use conflicts and the low power density of wind. And one of the reasons why it’s not going to work at scale. That’s my long preface. Tell me what’s happening with the wind project and go on and why it was so controversial? Well,

Yonatan Dubi  30:13  
first of all, so the Golan Heights is in the border of Israel in Syria and the northern eastern part of Israel, it’s a height, it’s about 800 meters on average. So it’s so there are winds there. And that’s the only place in Israel where the winds, and the potential for wind energy in Israel is very small. Um, I mean, the total potential is assumed to be around half a gigawatt. But, you know, the numbers are a in the single digit, a megawatts, very small projects. And even those are encountering very strong opposition. And I think rightfully so. And I will explain a little bit first of all, one of the greatest opponents of wind projects in Israel is the Israeli society for the preservation of nature. Okay, because Israel is a very important route of bird migration. And a lot of species of large birds, and small birds. And it kills them. I mean, you know, this better than I do. And, and, and so they were strong, they are strong opponents, and they are an important voice in Israel. So when power was originally limited, limited in Israel on that basis already. And then this the work few small projects in in the Golan Heights, and in another small change in the good boy. But basically, we have you know, things like 10, or 20, a wind turbines all together, there’s a very small number. Sure. And this new project was supposed to be the largest one. And then it turned out that a, there was a mixture of this honesty, and politics and money involved in all this. And it turned out that the land on which the project was supposed to be built on, um, was sold to the company or leased to the company, by a private individuals for the dues community. And so, the, the, the dues community as a whole suddenly realized, and this was all done behind their backs. And they live there, right. And it’s not only that they live there, they consider it their a home in a very emotional way. Because those is a unique population. They are not Muslim, they are not Jewish. And, and they live really at the border between Israel and Syria, many families are divided between Israel and Syria and Israeli Lebanon, this it was families. So this is where they are. And and, and they felt like they were being a shutout right and left behind, and not getting anything out of this project, you know, which is a multimillion dollar endeavor. Yeah, and not only you’re doing this on their land, without talking to them, without paying them any subsidies, not even electricity subsidies. Right. And, and it’s a huge thing you see, I mean, these things are, you know, big constructions, they had all the reasons to oppose this. Now. The opposition became, I would say aggressive, right. So the works were halted. And I think they are now still not there is no construction that I know of I just checked today. Um, and the reason might be that Israel is now in a sort of a political turmoil that you have kind of better things to do. And this kind of new equilibrium is good for everyone. Except a the company that invested some money already, right? But honestly, if this project stops, it will not break my heart. Because it’s just you know, people asked me what’s wrong with with wind farms in the Golan Heights? I tell them look, it’s like buying a bag of Peanuts, it’s not going to change your diet. But if you buy it for a ridiculous amount of money, you’re just losing money. And this is what it is is just a huge subsidy it and we don’t need this electricity, the electricity market in Israel, the grid is very strong. We have enough electricity, we need to build more a gas power plants for sure. But but we need jigowatts Not megawatts, so it’s not useful in any way. Well,

Robert Bryce  35:35  
well, thank you. I’m glad to get your perspective on that. Because once I saw, you know, the coverage and Al Jazeera covered, it wasn’t covered at all in the American media. Not a bit it but Reuters covered it Al Jazeera Times of Israel covered it and very clear eyed I thought and very clear eyed in terms of no there. These were riots. This was not just some people marching around with signs, no, these were riots. And many people were hospitalized, including Israeli policemen. And that the reason that the Druze leaders warn Netanyahu, you do this again, and it’s that we’re gonna it’s going to be an Intifada, we will die for this. And so that to me was, you know, I’ve been following these land use conflicts for a long time. And, you know, the wind industry, the solar industry tried to play them down. Oh, it’s not that big of a deal, or oh, it’s funded by the hydrocarbon sec. No, it’s not. It’s a lie. These these local people all around the world are reacting in very much the similar ways. Now, they’re not writing an Iowa right, but they are saying Ohio, but they are saying we don’t want these. Okay, so solar, you spend a lot of time working on solar solar, obviously, in Israel has much more purchase than wind in terms of the potential there because you have large deserts you have a fair amount of land. I mean, it’s it’s a fairly populous country, but it’s not. You have areas that are unpopulated where you can put solar, so wind is not what work at scale your tell me about the solar situation in Israel,

Yonatan Dubi  37:04  
right. So solar power in Israel supplies about between five and 8% of the electricity. And, and I think, in a way, Israel is a great example of why solar power just cannot replace reliable sources of power at scale. Because as you say, on paper, we are the ideal place. Right, we have a lot of sun, I mean, we have, on average, over 280 days of sunshine, right? I mean, compare it to Belgium, who deployed solar panels and have about 50 days of sunshine. So and, and we have a large areas of a unpopulated country, which is desert, so you don’t even have to chop trees or anything like that. So it would seem on paper, that a it’s an ideal place to make what I would say a large scale experiment in a deploying a solar power into a western grid. Right. And it fails completely. And it fails because of the physical limitations that solar power has, which you talk about a lot in your podcast, and, you know, infinite amount of guests speak about it, but it’s just there are several points, which are always the same. The first of course, is that there is no power at night. And with very little possibilities of, of, of

Robert Bryce  39:01  
storage and batteries or storage

Yonatan Dubi  39:02  
of batteries. You’re just gonna have to build the infrastructure anyway, to generate reliable power at night. Right? That’s one thing. The second thing is that but it’s false. The right from this part is that it costs more, no matter how you turn, how you look at it. A solar power always imposes extra burden on the grid, which always translates to increase in electricity costs. And in Israel for the past five or six years. Every year. The prices go up by 3% Roughly direct subsidies into to solar power. Now estimated at about 2 billion shakers shaking is about a quarter of $1 annually. I mean it’s Not a big amount, but Israel is a small country.

Robert Bryce  40:02  
So $500 million or so per year, roughly.

Yonatan Dubi  40:06  
Right? Right. And this is direct subsidies. I’m not talking about indirect subsidies, like a maintenance of the regular grid in regular power plants, and and a land ownership and things like that, which are all indirect subsidies. And

Robert Bryce  40:26  
so for a country of less than 10 million, I’m just trying to do that if we were going to extrapolate that into what would be the subsidy level in the United States. So your tent will say 10 million, so we multiply that by 30, or something like that. So I would have, you know, just a massive number, I don’t know. 30 times 500 million, what is it? It’s 1500 million. Right. So that’s, that’s a very large number. Right? Yeah, one point, right.

Yonatan Dubi  40:50  
Right. And this is a yearly number. Uh, huh. Every year, this is a it’s within the energy beat of the Israeli consumer. Yeah, we just pay it out of our own pockets. And again, this is an underestimation, because there are all kinds of indirect costs. And of course, in the last, I would say, five years, or maybe even more 10 years, the government is pushing to increase the number of solar power, you know, the golden number is 30%. By 2030. This is, of course, never going to happen. Right. And, and the reasons are clear, it’s just not doable. I mean, the Israeli electricity company had the research. I mean, so So the, of course, in Israeli politics, everything is always backwards. So they announced that

Robert Bryce  41:49  
why do you why do you say that everything is always backwards? In politics. Right. Why do you say that? That’s because

Yonatan Dubi  41:54  
Israelis. I mean, we are not so organized in our thoughts, which is both a huge advantage, and a huge disadvantage. I mean, this is why Israel is the startup nation, because it’s easy for us to think outside boxes. But then when you want to plan an energy, a policy, thinking too much outside the box is not a great idea, because the box is the laws of physics and engineering.

Robert Bryce  42:27  
So just a quick update on my math here, I’m not doing it well in my head, but I’m double checking through $500 million in direct subsidies to the solar sector, we extrapolate that roughly to the United States would be 15 billion per year for solar, which I think our number is actually probably higher, it is definitely higher than that. But just to give a rough estimate, so anyway, I’m sorry, I interrupted about this, this, this this planning that you were talking about within the Israeli Electric Company. So so they announced the program, which is your state controlled electric provider for everyone, right? You have one company for the whole

Yonatan Dubi  43:01  
company now. Now, it’s partially privatized. So we have about half the power is generated by the Israeli electricity company in half by private, privately owned a

Unknown Speaker  43:14  
power power companies,

Yonatan Dubi  43:16  
our companies, yes. But we have an ISIL. We have an independent system operator,

Robert Bryce  43:22  
which is deeply unfortunate, but go ahead.

Yonatan Dubi  43:25  
Actually not that bad.

Robert Bryce  43:28  
Okay, hopefully, and be done with it. But I’d said nevermind.

Yonatan Dubi  43:32  
Yeah. So they, of course, announced the program. 30 is that 30% solar power by 2030. And then they went to the Israeli electricity company and said, Okay, now tell us what we need to do. Right. Which came after, and I talked to several of the engineers who worked on this project. And it turns out the numbers are staggering. Because it turns out that in order to supply 30% of Israel’s power from solar, you need to to build 16 gigawatts installed or solar power which is the amount of power installed from conventional sources in Israel. Wow. Yes, so the same amount just to get 30%. Now, it turns out that this is an over estimate, because sorry an underestimate, because they took a number for the a capacity factor which is slightly exaggerated. And we now know the real numbers and the real numbers are lower than 20% I mean, we have 20% of sunshine on average every year, but the capacity factor will be lower than that because of a cloudy days and because of DC to AC conversion, which takes a little bit of your capacity so you need to jump to to install mall a A Paolo, then you already have

Robert Bryce  45:03  
more capacity, more and more more generation capacity generation, right? Yeah,

Yonatan Dubi  45:07  
this is just cannot be done.

Robert Bryce  45:09  
Well, and this is sad. This is the same in the US. And there’s these, you know, these academics from Princeton and Stanford and other places. Oh, we’ll just double the size of the grid. And I’m thinking, you won’t you don’t even understand what you’re talking about. But that’s an eye. So So then, fundamentally is I mean, it’s a physics problem. And you’re a physicist. So you, we can say that very clearly. It’s a physics problem. It’s a land use problems connection problem. So we’ve talked now about gas we’ve talked about when we talked about solar, we’ve been talking for 45 minutes or so I want to talk about nuclear because you have nuclear power. You have a nuclear capability in Israel. This is not a no one. This is no big secret. Israel is a nuclear nation. You have the bomb, you have the bomb, have had the bomb holding to

Yonatan Dubi  45:51  
full and sources.

Robert Bryce  45:53  
Well, right. That new Israel, bomb wink wink, no one’s going to say that confirm this. This is the case. But there’s also a political risk there know, as well, right, that Israel hasn’t is it? Well, let me put the question this way. Has the fear of a nuclear attack on a nuclear power plant been one of the reasons why Israel has not built civilian nuclear reactors for power generation?

Yonatan Dubi  46:20  
I don’t think so. Okay, I think I think the reason we don’t have nuclear power plant is similar to the reason why nuclear power is a being shut down in Europe. And this is mainly bad public relations of nuclear energy. Okay. This is one and of course, the unavoidable fact that building a nuclear power plant takes four years. But in Israel, governments are typically replaced every three years. So to find a politician to put his name on, on this suggestion, however, and this takes us back to the normalization of relations with Saudi. I think now, there is a unique situation in this field. Of course, nuclear power in Israel is complicated, because we are not signatories of the Non Proliferation Treaty, and probably will not sign it. Right. And but there is a precedent for that India is also a doesn’t didn’t sign the NPT, they have nuclear power, smaller than India, for sure. But the precedent is there. And the situation now, geopolitically is quite unique because the Biden administration wants this normalization to happen, because they want an achievement on the Fallen front. The Saudis have already stated that part of a demands is a civil nuclear plan. And this will be the only the first A Arab nation with a with a nuclear program. And the Israel government is a pushing of at least a put puts it on the table, that a condition for this to happen is that we also want a civil nuclear program without signing the NPT. And and if the cards play out, right, and I totally hope they will. There is a unique situation here. Now, so just

Robert Bryce  48:43  
to repeat, I’m sorry, you only have it once, but I wouldn’t. So this piece, this negotiations that’s ongoing, that are ongoing with the Israelis, the US and the Saudis would include then, if we’re, as part of the normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, both countries would be able to stand up a civilian nuclear energy program. And I mean, that’s the whole is it beyond? I mean, I’ve been in Saudi Arabia. It’s an interesting country. I’m not really interested in going back, but it was, is, I mean, is this beyond the possibility that you would see Jews and the Saudis working together on peaceful nuclear? I mean, this would mean that there could be some kind of coalition that you’d see Saudis coming to Israel or Israelis going to Saudi to work on cooperation on this kind of thing? Or is that truly beyond beyond

Yonatan Dubi  49:33  
what I would guess that you know, South Koreans will will arrive with both Saudi Arabia and Israel nuclear power plants? Because neither Saudi Arabia nor Israel honestly has the the infrastructure, the knowledge on how to build a nuclear power plants? I mean, this is a not something.

Robert Bryce  49:55  
But it could be this could be the Americans, right? I mean, the Americans

Yonatan Dubi  49:59  
could be I think that’s the leverage, right? Could

Robert Bryce  50:03  
be the Canadians, right? You know, with candy?

Yonatan Dubi  50:06  
Most probably my guess is or the French. But you know, it’s a it’s a was still a long way from there. Yeah, right now is really premature

Robert Bryce  50:17  
to talk about who might come in, we’ve got hurdles to discuss before. But that’s interesting. I didn’t realize that that was part of that. So for the sound for the war for Israel, nuclear energy would mean more more electricity security as part of an energy security play. For the Saudis, it would be energy security as well. But for them, they want to quit burning as much oil for power Gen, so they can sell the oil on the on the open market. That’s not, that is not a secret, right. But I barrels a day or something like that in their power plants, just to keep the lights on which that’s a valuable fuel that they could be replacing with, you know, with, with nuclear or what they don’t have gas, of course, but they’d rather not be burning that oil, if they could avoid it.

Yonatan Dubi  50:59  
Exactly. And I think the Saudis are very pragmatic, and very realistic. And they understand that no matter how much you talk about, whatever, net Zico or decarbonisation, or whatever, humanity is going to keep on burning oil for, you know, as long as far as you can see into the future, right, yeah, they just understand it. And they say, We want to be the suppliers of that oil. And that’s a that’s a smart move. I think. So. Of course, nuclear power is complicated in Israel. Sure. It’s complicated, because, again, the security situation is always a important here, more so than in other places, right. Um, we also cannot, I mean, it’s a small country. So we need to be extra careful in terms of safety. Right. And so all these things are, you know, hindering the plan. And the amazing thing is that nuclear power was not even on the table. It till I would say, three years ago, we’re talking about something completely new, that has just is just now starting to emerge. And, amazingly enough politicians on the Israeli side are surprisingly open to the idea. So I’m extremely optimistic. I think that filthy is full. Now. Even if we run out of natural gas, it could still be replaced by a nuclear power. And you know, everyone will be

Robert Bryce  52:54  
willing to use it. Well, that’s interesting. I’m really I’m intrigued by how you’re, you know how you’re talking about this? Because it’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought to, but the existing nuclear plant, Israel research reactor that’s in them to give Nuclear Research Center near Dimona, so are you close by you’re in the Negev yourself? No, right.

Yonatan Dubi  53:12  
I’m close by and I have many, many friends and colleagues there. It’s a very, very small reactor, we’re talking about kilowatts. Yeah. So would that be the same kind of infrastructure? Of course,

Robert Bryce  53:25  
but if you if so blue sky this for me, then yoni? Would that be the logical place then for the Israelis to build a new reactor, a new power reactor would be somewhere near Dimona, somewhere that’s relatively far from Jerusalem. So it would not be that difficult to transmit the power because it’s not not a hugely long distance. But

Yonatan Dubi  53:48  
I learned, I learned that that in the Israel planning authority, there is actually a location for nuclear power plants. A I will of course, not disclose the location, but I don’t think it’s a secret. But it’s someone in the desert. Right? For obvious reasons, right. So which means you will not be able to use a water cooled in

Robert Bryce  54:13  

Yonatan Dubi  54:15  
design, but that’s fine. And it’s about, I would say 200 kilometres from Tel Aviv from the, from the main, a population. So it’s a reasonable distance, we we transfer electricity to those distances. And so, so a area is not a problem. And of course, nuclear power takes a very small amount of area, per the a power it gives so so that’s always a benefit. There are other challenges to nuclear power, which I would of course not. I mean, one can think about these challenges for yourself, I mean, all the security things and we’re always Thinking about, again, these security issues? Sure. And the nuclear power plant has many steps. Well, a problem might occur. And of course, my dream is that we will not need, you know, these huge power plants, you know, candle, whatever, in the desert, but we’ll have some more modular than those inside the neighborhoods in Tel Aviv.

Robert Bryce  55:27  
Well, okay, so let’s, that’s a dream. But okay. I understand I understand what you’re saying. But the so let’s come back to the SMRs in just a minute. So you have 16 gigawatts of installed capacity right now. So you want to, you know, ideally, you’d start with one or two gigawatts of new nuclear. So you can display some gas fired generation, you’re still burning coal, as well know, your plants are still in

Yonatan Dubi  55:49  
so 20% of Israel power is still cold. Right? And I mean, the plan was to phase it out by 2025. This will not happen. Right. But maybe by 2027, it will. And of course, Israel will always have some a call capable capabilities. Because coal has the unique property that it’s very, very easy to store, like, just make a big pile of coal. And it’s there. So we will always maintain the capabilities of cogeneration. But for the day to day, everyday use, probably in the fields will phase out. I mean, recall was phased out in 10 years, from a 95%, down to 20. Right?

Robert Bryce  56:40  
And just to review, because I remember some of this history, and I’ve been to South Africa, just one once is there. But Israel and south, a lot of your coal in years past came from South Africa. Is that not right? That the South Africans and the Israelis were closely allied because of the South Africans could provide oil and other products through the Fischer tropsch process, because they were experts at converting coal into other products. But so just to people who don’t know the Israeli geography, I certainly didn’t just get pulled the map up so Dimona, and the negative is almost due south of Jerusalem. It’s not quite in the middle of the country, but it’s in the desert there. And and so you’re saying SMR? Is would be a more logical situation? Why wouldn’t you just say, well, let’s build gigawatt scale reactors like they’re doing in Abu Dhabi, or the Vogel reactors here, the AP 1000, why wouldn’t you want to build just go ahead and, and build a large power station instead of SMRs? Or USD, or getting up several SMRs that are gas cooled instead of water cooled, and that would work in the desert? Right? I’m just curious what your why your bias toward this modular reactors in places like Israel,

Yonatan Dubi  57:52  
right, so of course, there’s an ongoing debate between the few people who are advocating for nuclear power, what kind of nuclear power a Israeli should think about? And I don’t think there’s a consensus on that. And, of course, I’m optimistic. So I’m talking about something which is not yet there, right, or don’t have a small modular reactors to buy. So one obvious thing is that small modular reactors will have a passive safety measures, right, they will be completely safe. So there’s no problem in deploying them very close to the, to the areas of major population. And this saves a lot of trouble. Right, for a transmitting and transmission lines in Israel are also a huge problem. I mean, for various reasons. So

Robert Bryce  58:46  
because of land land use conflict. Right. Exactly.

Yonatan Dubi  58:49  
Yeah. So so it’s always a problem. I would say the second thing is that, although the Israeli grid is expanding, I mean, we need more and more power every year, about 2% increase in the in generation every year. Some models show that one and a half gigawatts. Too much of a jump. So from the economic point of view, you will have to shut down the gas competitors. I see. So that depends on how you can sell the extra gas that you’re saving. I see. So like everything in the world of energy is a complicated problem,

Robert Bryce  59:38  
right? Or compensate the existing generators to say we’re gonna buy you out and replace you with nuclear or whatever. Right, exactly. Now, those increments of new new nuclear would make more sense if they were in the, in the 100 or two 300 megawatts size or something like that, that I would say, gradually increase into their their penetration into the Israeli grid. So one of the The last thing is we’ve been talking for about an hour. My guest is my new friend, Jana Tom Dubey. He is a chemistry professor at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, he lives near Dimona, in Israel. What about the climate act in Israel? I mean, this is a lot of now this. You know, in Europe, there’s a big backlash against the net zero push in Britain as well. The inflation Reduction Act here in the US it was passed a year ago and a lot of cheerleading around that that somehow this is going to absolutely change the global the, you know, what’s happening globally in terms of climate change. House. I was in Japan earlier this year. And energy security was trumping any discussions about climate change. How is the Israeli government amidst all these other things with the Supreme Court and the courts and Nick and Netanyahu struggles? And to go on? How important is this issue of emissions reductions in Israeli politics?

Yonatan Dubi  1:00:57  
Right, that strongly depends on the government that is a or the administration. So the previous administration was very strongly a very strong proponent of reduction. But a they could not pass climate act. Right. And this

Robert Bryce  1:01:18  
party, it’s the lacuna is in power now. Right.

Yonatan Dubi  1:01:21  
Right now is the code is is that we made the left middle right wing,

Robert Bryce  1:01:24  
right, but when headed by Netanyahu,

Yonatan Dubi  1:01:27  
exactly. But the prior government was a coalition of both young middle left, middle, right and hard left wing coalition. Right, and the hard left wing pushed very strongly for climate act, right, they could not pass it, because I think a lot of people in government understand that. In that, passing a climate act comes at the expense of energy security, and energy prices. And, and the thing is that in Israel, energy security is okay, because we have natural gas, I don’t think anyone is worried about adding, you know, 10 or 12% more solar power to the grid in terms of stability of the grid, however, the prices will skyrocket, Israel is already a fairly expensive place to live. So this is an important thing. So a no government is willing to sign a law that will increase the electricity bills by a factor of 1.5, or by a factor of two, or by a factor of three, we don’t know, because as I said, these are very high subsidies. Right? So they could not pass it now in this current government, current administration, they tried to pass a climate act. And this climate Act was really even worse than the climate act of the left wing government that was prior to that, because they were talking about 50% renewables in 20 years, you know, things which are just, you know, simply engineering li cannot be done. And a did not put a cap on how much spending would would this require? And gave, for example, complete control of every large infrastructure project in Israel, to the Israeli EPA, Environmental Protection Agency. All right. So these are things which are politically dangerous, because it means that every infrastructure, a project, everything will be first and foremost, be looked at, from the lens of is it costing us additional a carbon dioxide emissions? Right now, of course, everything costs carbon dioxide emissions, right? That’s the almost love of a current existence. So when you look at everything through that lens, you’re going to slow down every process. And by extension, you want to slow down the economy, everything will cost more, everything will take longer. It’s just a bad idea.

Robert Bryce  1:04:24  
And so it wouldn’t and wouldn’t empower a bureaucracy rather than the legislature to enact the rules, which I think is also very dangerous, but that’s

Yonatan Dubi  1:04:33  
exactly. And I mean, and we pointed out, that if you state by law, that the government must reduce carbon emissions to I don’t know, 50% 20 years from now, people can sue the government for not achieving this goal. Right through the Supreme Court. Now, you cannot achieve this goal. Yeah, physically, you cannot achieve this goal. No one has. And so it’s a dangerous a opening for a bad administration, you know, below bureaucrats taking over a every decision the government wants to do by looking through the lens of the environment and co2 emissions, something like that. So it was a really bad law, it was pushed very hard by the A Biden administration. And it’s still being pushed. And we stopped the first round of a votes, literally by a by using political influence that the Israeli phone for national environmentalism has inside them equipped parties and other parties, the Minister for Environment Protection received something like 50 1000s text messages or something like that some ridiculous number, I don’t know. Right. And and it was withdrawn from the table, but it will come back. It will come back in some way or some form or another. I don’t know what would happen. A but I think that the Biden administration is strongly pushing for a climate act by as many countries as possible. So

Robert Bryce  1:06:27  
pardon me for interrupting. So you’re saying that the Biden administration is, is pushing the Likud to pass? Measure? Okay, well, this is news to me, I had no idea. But I guess,

Yonatan Dubi  1:06:40  
because they want since they want to come to the next a CLP. Meeting the next climate convention, they want to come with as many Western countries as they can, having a climate act.

Robert Bryce  1:06:53  
I see. But, right, it’s like they haven’t done enough damage in the US. They want to share the share.

Yonatan Dubi  1:07:02  
Right. But but they’re having a huge pushback from the Israeli government from the Israeli populace from a countries in Europe, which are now you know, Sweden, A is opposing climate act, Italy, Hungary, a large places in Europe are pushing back on these, because they came to realize that that climate policy comes at the expense of energy security.

Robert Bryce  1:07:32  
Right. Yeah. And this is what I mean, that was what we saw on in what I’ve heard directly from Japanese government officials, energy security is our top priority. You know, this is the human home with the Kyoto Protocol. And they were saying, you know, yeah, okay, Net Zero climate change. Yeah, but we live in a bad neighborhood. And their point, China, Russia, the North Koreans, is

Yonatan Dubi  1:07:54  
actually quite a few analogies between Israel and Japan, it’s a slightly bigger economy in Israel. Probably less peaceful than live in Tokyo. But in terms of, you know, geopolitics, there are some similarities. And I wish our government would follow the Japanese example.

Robert Bryce  1:08:18  
Well, it’s interesting because well, okay, so to be clear, though, the Japanese government there you know, a lot of local governments are saying, Oh, yes, net zero, you know, they’re there. They’re sure nodding and saying, Oh, this is what we’re going to do. But the reality when you ask them, yeah, well, that’s just posturing. Right.

Yonatan Dubi  1:08:32  
And they’re reviving the nuclear plan, nuclear

Robert Bryce  1:08:35  
reviving and also building coal fired power plants, by the way, and gasoline needs plants. All right. So last two questions. You only I think your lead listen to the podcast. So you may already be expecting the so what are you reading? What are the books that are on the top of your your, your book pile? I know you’re busy man with four children, but I’m assuming you find time to read.

Yonatan Dubi  1:08:56  
I do. I always read science fiction. So I’m an avid science fiction reader. I always have an axiom of book next to my bed, but I’m currently reading a book called I’m looking for the English translation. An old to label with or I think it’s called an ode to labor with. Uh huh. Okay, it’s a book from the 50s. Very, very smart. It’s a very, so

Robert Bryce  1:09:26  
if you’re a fan of Isaac Asimov. Oh, yeah. So yes, well, he only He only wrote 400 books. So yeah,

Yonatan Dubi  1:09:33  
I think more than that. Yes. I think I’ve read a fair share of those. Well, not all but but probably the majority of those

Robert Bryce  1:09:41  
right? Wow, no kidding. Right. I have not done that.

Yonatan Dubi  1:09:44  
But I’ve been doing that for 40 years. So okay,

Robert Bryce  1:09:47  
well, so last question. You only what gives you hope.

Yonatan Dubi  1:09:52  
Almost everything gives me hope. I’m optimistic by design. I’m I’m I’m always on I see the pushback from thinking people to climate policy you give me hope, for example, your podcast and podcasts like, you know, a decouple and Mark Mays and others, that that, you know, bring reason back to the table. So that gives me tremendous hope. And, and I’m also being a physicist, I’m, I understand that you cannot bend the rules of the laws of physics to your wishes. So I’m always hopeful because I understand that no matter what happens, eventually, reality will prevail. And people will come to their senses. So I’m optimistic that way.

Robert Bryce  1:10:48  
Well, that’s a good place to stop. My guest has been Yoni Dooby by a new friend. He is a chemistry professor at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, you can find him by just searching on Google. He has a really interesting essay up on substack at h x stem.substack.com. That’s h x s t. E m.substack.com. You want to turn it’s been a pleasure to talk to you. I’m glad we made this happen. A lot of interesting politics in Israel. Of course, the politics in Israel are always interesting because it’s full contact sport in Israel, as you will know, but many thanks for joining us on the power hungry podcast. My

Yonatan Dubi  1:11:29  
pleasure. Thank you for having me, Robert. Great opportunity.

Robert Bryce  1:11:33  
And to all of you out there in podcast land. Thanks for tuning in to this episode of the power hungry podcast until next time, see you

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