Energy and Environment
Congressional Newsletter
Periodic updates to Congress on RAND's work in Energy and Environment

Risks and Opportunities for Israel in Shifting to a Greater Reliance on Natural Gas

natural gas pipeline

Israel currently relies on imported coal as the primary fuel for baseload electric-power generation. Beyond importing gas from Egypt, it recently discovered new, large, domestic offshore natural-gas deposits off the coast of Haifa. How far should Israel shift toward natural gas (both imported and domestic) and renewables? To answer this question, Israel must consider likely future levels of demand; the costs, source, availability, and security of the fuel supply; future development of alternative technologies; system reliability; environmental effects; and land use. How these factors will work out in the future is fraught with deep uncertainty.

A RAND study sought to help the Israeli government manage make decisions regarding future sources of electric power by choosing robust strategies that minimize the potential consequences of relying more heavily on natural gas. It did so by applying to these assessments newly developed methods for strategic planning and decisionmaking under deep uncertainty. In particular, the study used the problem of determining how large a role natural gas should play in Israel's energy balance to demonstrate methods for discovering plans of action that will be robust across many possible futures when information is lacking and that would enable the use of more traditional approaches.

Using this approach, the analysis showed that Israel could shift toward natural gas to meet future electricity demand but that risks rise if growth in demand for electric power does not slow. The report outlines precautions that would support an energy infrastructure in which natural gas fuels a growing share of electricity generation without jeopardizing energy security. The findings illustrate how to shift from project-based planning to a process that would allow planners to exploit more and better information adaptively. The report recommends that Israel invest in renewables, increase foreign gas pipeline delivery only up to the existing capacity, and draw first on domestic natural-gas sources while at the same time planning for but delaying a decision to build a liquefied-natural-gas terminal until future demand and costs become clearer.

Read the Report: Natural Gas and Israel's Energy Future Near-Term Decisions from a Strategic Perspective

Read the Research Brief: Natural Gas and Israel's Energy Future: Planning Amid Deep Uncertainty

INTERVIEW

Better Understanding the Uncertainties of Using Biomass to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Henry Willis

Henry Willis specializes in risk analysis with a focus on applying decision analytic tools and risk assessment to systematically incorporate a problem's technical, economic, institutional, and social components into environmental policy decisionmaking. He has recently studied the costs and benefits of potential commercial applications of beryllium materials, developed a survey and focus-group process for incorporating public participation into comparative risk management, and reviewed existing risk assessment tools used to inform the development of an innovative risk assessment process for managing former Army lands containing unexploded ordnance. He also helped develop a risk-informed decision process for designing coastal restoration strategies in Louisiana. He has testified on applications of risk analysis before Congress, written numerous op-ed pieces, and published dozens of peer-reviewed papers, reports, and book chapters on applications of risk analysis in the areas of energy, the environment, and homeland security.


As the nation seeks to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, how does biomass fit into the picture?

Different types of biomass—from agricultural residues, such as corn stover, to dedicated energy crops, such as switchgrass—can be used to generate electricity or produce liquid fuels. Along with other measures being considered by the energy sector, biomass-derived energy is a potential pathway—as an alternative to fossil fuels—for reducing life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions.

What are some of the issues associated with biomass-derived energy when it comes to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions?

Exactly how much biomass-based energy can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions—if it reduces them at all—greatly depends on how the biomass is produced, transported, processed, and converted into liquid fuels or electricity. There is a great deal of uncertainty, especially in the so-called "farm-to-gate" stage of the life cycle, from when the biomass is planted until it is delivered to the bioenergy plant gate.

Why is it so important to get a handle on these uncertainties?

If we don't really understand the magnitude of uncertainties in the actual upstream greenhouse-gas emissions associated with a biomass feedstock or process, it could lead the government to adopt policies and industrial practices that increase expenditures but yield only marginal greenhouse emission reductions, if any.

How is your research addressing this?

My colleagues and I have built a model—called CUBE, for Calculating Uncertainty in Biomass Emissions—that assesses farm-to-gate uncertainties and incorporates them into estimates of greenhouse-gas emissions. At this point, it includes emissions associated with feedstock production, transportation, and processing but not those associated with the production and use of the fuel for transportation, electricity generation, or other purposes.

What does CUBE assess?

The model assesses greenhouse-gas emission estimates for producing three dedicated energy crops (corn grain, switchgrass, and mixed prairie biomass) and two biomass residues (forest residue and mill residue). We selected these feedstocks based on how relevant they are for future energy planning and how representative they are for other potential energy crops.

What did you find in using the model?

The analysis identified the most significant data gaps and the processes in the life cycle where additional information would provide the greatest expected value. By far, the greatest source of farm-to-gate emissions is associated with the cultivation of bioenergy crops. The most significant uncertainties involve how much of the nitrogen in applied fertilizers ends up in the atmosphere, as well as future decisions about what types of biomass to grow and in which locations, which can lead to a net release or sequestration of carbon in the soil, depending on the scenario.

Read More About CUBE: Uncertainty in Biomass Greenhouse Gas Emissions


RESEARCHER PROFILE

Steven Popper

Steven Popper

Steven Popper is a senior economist at RAND. As associate director of the RAND Science and Technology Policy Institute (1996 to 2001), Popper provided research and analytic support to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and other agencies of the executive branch. He is currently leading RAND's first major project in Israel on long-term energy strategies. Additionally, he coauthored the flagship study of the RAND Pardee Center for Longer Range Global Policy and the Future Human Condition, Shaping the Next One Hundred Years: New Methods for Quantitative, Long-Term Policy Analysis (RAND Corporation, 2003), which provides a new methodological framework for decisionmaking under profound uncertainty that been applied to an expanding set of policy issues.

Read more about Steven Popper »


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