Palestinians turn to the sun to ease power shortages
Solar panels increasing in Gaza, where there is an average of only four hours of power a day
From orderly rows of solar panels in a field in the West Bank to the chaotic rooftops of Gaza, Palestinians are hoping that harnessing the energy of the sun can reduce their dependence on Israel for electricity.
The West Bank gets only about three-quarters of the power its 3 million people need, supplied mostly by Israel and, to a far lesser extent, Jordan.
In the Gaza Strip, power generation is so paltry that, even with imports from Israel and Egypt, it gets just one-third of what it needs. The 2 million Gazans make do with an average of just four hours of electricity a day.
Residents of Gaza have turned to solar power to keep fans whirring or to power televisions and other appliances. The number of solar panels in the enclave has increased four-fold in four years and they are now seen on most rooftops and balconies of homes, schools, hospitals, shops, banks and mosques in a place where the sun shines 320 days a year.
In the Nusseirat refugee camp, Sabreen Abu Shawiesh said installing solar panels on the metal roof of her one-storey house had changed her family's life. "We had almost no electricity; nowadays fans are working all day."
The sun may be free, but the technology is not, and Palestinians say their ability to import solar panels has been hampered by Israeli border controls.
In Gaza, which has endured years of Israeli and Egyptian sanctions aimed at isolating the Hamas group which rules the territory, tensions raised by weekly border protest since March 30 have increased the problem.
Israel has blocked all imports into the enclave except for humanitarian supplies.
Even before then, entrepreneurs in Gaza say Israel has sometimes banned the import of various kinds of batteries, including those used for solar power, on the grounds that they might be used for military purposes.
A spokesman for Cogat, the Israeli body administering occupied Palestinian territories, said Israel had not imposed any import restrictions on solar panel technology and did not consider it to be "dual purpose".
In the West Bank, ruled by President Mahmoud Abbas’s western-backed Palestinian Authority, the public and private sectors have launched projects to diversify power sources to get cheaper electricity and more self-sufficiency.
"The government is in dire need of individual initiatives and investments to provide power so that it can become independent of the occupation, step by step," said Shifa' Abu Sa'adi, head of natural resources at the Palestinian economy ministry.
The authority’s Palestinian Investment Fund (PIF) plans to build three solar farms and put solar energy into 500 schools. The three new plants will generate 22 megawatts per day. The West Bank needs 1,400MW but currently only 1,100MW are available.
Larger solar projects would require more land but it is scarce because, under the Oslo peace accords of the mid-1990s, Israel retains control of much of the land of the West Bank.
"We will be in a good position if we reach 5 or 10 per cent of the required electricity supply for Palestine in general from solar energy," said Azem Bishara, chief executive officer of Massader, a subsidiary of the PIF.
Mr Bishara said Massader intended to invest $200 million (Dh735m) in renewable energy over the next six years to generate an additional 200MW.
The Gaza Strip only has one power plant, which generated 140MW in 1999 when it was built but now only produces 23MW. The enclave imports 30MW from Egypt and 120MW from Israel. This is less than a third of the daily needs - estimated at up to 600MW a day.
Last week the European Union completed Gaza's biggest solar farm which will provide 0.5MW per day to power the Southern Gaza Desalination Plant, also funded by the EU.
The UN Deputy Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace Process Jamie McGoldrick last week urged Israel to allow UN-purchased emergency fuel needed for backup generators at vital health, water and sanitation operations.
"The well-being of 2 million people, half of whom are children, is at stake. It is unacceptable that Palestinians in Gaza are repeatedly deprived of the most basic elements of a dignified life," Mr McGoldrick said.
Updated: August 13, 2018 03:10 PM