Gazans turn to solar power as fuel crisis bites

Feb 26, 2014 by Mai Yaghi
In this file photo, a Palestinian woman and her children light candles during a power outage in Gaza City, on November 10, 2013

On the roof of Gaza City's children's hospital, a pristine row of solar panels gleams in the sunlight, an out-of-place symbol of modern, clean energy in the impoverished Strip.

As the coastal Palestinian territory lives through the worst fuel shortage in its history, many of Gaza's 1.6 million inhabitants are beginning to see not just as a viable alternative, but perhaps as the only solution to the energy crisis.

"We were forced to consider relying on solar power alone after the that events in Egypt brought about," said hospital director Nabil al-Burqani, referring to the closure of cross-border tunnels which halted the fuel supply into Gaza.

"We need solar energy in order to keep up care for babies in the maternity ward," he told AFP.

"If there's just a minute-long cut to the electricity that runs the baby incubators, a child could die."

Gazans have learned to live with daily power outages of up to 12 hours that have affected private homes, schools, hospitals, businesses and water and sanitation plants.

The ruling Hamas movement has blamed the crisis on Egypt's destruction of cross-border tunnels which had been used for importing fuel, a decision implemented after the military overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

The tunnels had played a key role in Gaza's economy since 2006, when Israel imposed a blockade after the capture of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants in a cross-border raid. The restrictions were tightened the following year when Hamas seized power.

Although the Israeli restrictions have since been eased, the tunnels continued to be the main conduit for fuel.

Safer than generators

By harnessing the energy of the intense sunlight that beats down on the coastal enclave most of the year, Gazans are optimistic they can overcome the crisis in the long term.

And initial setup costs—which include buying and installing panels and converters, and the batteries needed to run them—are potentially outweighed by the benefits.

The project at the children's hospital, which was partly funded by British relief charity Sawaed, was set up in January 2013 at a cost of $100,000 (74,000 euros) and is now providing 20 kilowatts of electricity per day.

Elsewhere, a Kuwaiti donation of $6 million is paying for the construction of five new schools, all of which will be equipped with , the education ministry said.

But the solar drive is not limited only to large-scale foreign-funded projects.

Individual families, if they can afford the initial outlay, are also switching to solar, which promises to be a much safer alternative than generators.

After the fuel crisis kicked in, mobile back-up generators quickly became commonplace, but were often unsafe, causing a string of deaths through explosions, fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Shadi Jawwad bought solar panels for his home in the central Gaza Strip after getting a bank loan.

"There's no electricity or fuel to run the generators or the power station in Gaza, but we can use the sun," the 44-year-old government worker said.

"My own solar set-up cost 5,000 shekels ($1,400/1,000 euros), and with it I can get enough electricity to light my home and keep the television on for several hours, even during the regular power cuts to the main supply," Jawwad told AFP.

"This is a safe way of keeping my home running... And I only make one down-payment to set up the solar power system, rather than having to buy more petrol every day for my generator at fluctuating and often extortionate prices."

Figures released by the UN humanitarian agency OCHA show that in November, Gaza received less than 20,000 litres of fuel per week, down from nearly a million litres a day when the tunnels were operating.

Gaza's sole power station ground to a halt on November 1 after diesel stocks ran out. It only went back online 50 days later after a delivery of Israeli fuel which was paid for by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

But the need to seek alternatives to carbon-based fuels appears to be sinking in.

On its website, Gaza's energy authority says it is looking to introduce "a strategy to encourage use," in the hope that by 2020, solar power will account for 20 percent of the territory's energy consumption.

For now, it is relying on a stock of solar equipment which was brought through the tunnels before Egypt shut them.

Explore further: Sun shines on New York solar energy boom

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hackers down hundreds of Israeli sites over Gaza

Nov 17, 2012

Online activist group Anonymous said on Saturday it had downed the websites of dozens of Israeli state agencies and a top bank in protest over the Jewish state's deadly air assault on Gaza.

One million Bangladesh homes on solar power

Jun 15, 2011

The number of households in electricity-starved Bangladesh using solar panels has crossed the one million mark -- the fastest expansion of solar use in the world, officials said Wednesday.

DOCOMO to field test solar-powered green base stations

Mar 22, 2013

NTT DOCOMO, INC., Japan's leading mobile operator, announced that from April, it will begin field testing three conventional mobile-network base stations that have been installed with solar panels, high-capacity rechargeable ...

Sun shines on New York solar energy boom

Feb 23, 2014

On a rooftop in the Bronx far from the skyscrapers of Manhattan, 4,760 panels soak up the winter rays. Welcome to the solar power boom in New York state.

Recommended for you

Obama launches measures to support solar energy in US

18 hours ago

The White House Thursday announced a series of measures aimed at increasing solar energy production in the United States, particularly by encouraging the installation of solar panels in public spaces.

Tailored approach key to cookstove uptake

18 hours ago

Worldwide, programs aiming to give safe, efficient cooking stoves to people in developing countries haven't had complete success—and local research has looked into why.

Wireless power transfer achieved at five-meter distance

19 hours ago

The way electronic devices receive their power has changed tremendously over the past few decades, from wired to non-wired. Users today enjoy all kinds of wireless electronic gadgets including cell phones, ...

User comments : 8

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Feb 26, 2014
is now providing 20 kilowatts of electricity per day

Erm...unit check? That should probably be 20kWh a day?

And I only make one down-payment to set up the solar power system, rather than having to buy more petrol every day for my generator at fluctuating and often extortionate prices."

Why solar makes sense - there you have it in a nutshell.

For now, it is relying on a stock of solar equipment which was brought through the tunnels before Egypt shut them.

Starving people of fuel is one thing. Starving them of solar panel supply is just mean.
Eikka
not rated yet Feb 26, 2014
providing 20 kilowatts of electricity per day.


Meaningless.

Is that 20 kilowatt-hours a day, or 20 kilowatts at peak, or 20 kilowatts throughout the day, or do we have to take it literally and believe that the power of the solar panels increase by 20 kilowatts a day?

Why solar makes sense - there you have it in a nutshell.


Well, if it wasn't for the replacement cost of the batteries, which last a surprisingly short time.

Of course it is cheaper to replace batteries at $1 per kWh than gasoline and diesel, when you have no gasoline or diesel, but then again how do you import new batteries with the tunnels closed?
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Feb 26, 2014
Well, if it wasn't for the replacement cost of the batteries, which last a surprisingly short time.

If you mean by "surprising short time" more than ten years...yeah.
Which is still WAY cheaper than buying fuel every day.
And ten years is a timespan in which a lot can happen in Gaza.

Given that Gaza is in a dire position I'm betting they'll rig up something ingenious and low cost to store the energy. Such situations have a habit of producing surprising solutions.

There is shipping to Gaza. And stopping a ship loaded with batteries and solar panels isn't exactly good PR.
Eikka
not rated yet Feb 26, 2014
If you mean by "surprising short time" more than ten years...yeah.


Flooded lead acid batteries are now about a bit over $100 per kWh and last about 500 cycles to 50% discharge, which makes them cost 40 cents per kWh. In practice they need to be replaced every two years in heavy applications like powering a house.

AGM type batteries tolerate deeper discharge to 80% for the same cycles, but they cost around $250 per kWh, so that's 60 cents a kWh. They last about 4-5 years in use unless you grossly oversize. The further issue is that lead acid batteries are increasing in price due to demand and the need to deal with the waste lead.

Lithium batteries are $300-500 per kWh so that's out of the question in a place like Gaza. They'd probably steal and build firebombs out of them anyhow.

All in all, combined with the cost of the other equipment, you're approaching an energy cost close to a dollar per kWh, which is only tolerable if you really have nothing else to work with.
alfie_null
not rated yet Feb 26, 2014
Well, if it wasn't for the replacement cost of the batteries, which last a surprisingly short time.

Of course it is cheaper to replace batteries at $1 per kWh than gasoline and diesel, when you have no gasoline or diesel, but then again how do you import new batteries with the tunnels closed?

Which begs the question: how long do the emergency generators these households in Gaza purchase last? Even if maintained optimally, these kind of generators are not designed for this sort of continuous use. And I have no expectation that they are in large part being maintained per manufacturer requirements.
Eikka
not rated yet Feb 26, 2014
Which begs the question: how long do the emergency generators these households in Gaza purchase last? Even if maintained optimally, these kind of generators are not designed for this sort of continuous use.


I would hazard about 5000 hours, which is the design life of an automotive engine. Proper stationary generators would be designed for 25,000-35,000 hours, but since these aren't they're probably comparable to car or motorcycle engines.

With moderate use for 4-5 hours a night, you're looking at 3-4 years between total overhaul. The difference being that engines can be repaired and rebuilt locally in a machine shop, whereas batteries can't.
Anda
not rated yet Feb 26, 2014
I was in Turkey a few years ago.
Every house outside the cities had solar panels because of the lack of electric infrastructure.
These are low cost solar systems... and they work!
Skepticus
not rated yet Mar 20, 2014
The "international community" has listed Hamas as a terrorist entity. Terrorists' residences are therefore fair game. All those shiny bit of silicon on top are good for periodic target practice. Can't let those $3 billion a year ammo allowance to get stale.

More news stories

Venture investments jump to $9.5B in 1Q

Funding for U.S. startup companies soared 57 percent in the first quarter to a level not seen since 2001, as venture capitalists piled more money into an increasing number of deals, according to a report due out Friday.

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

White House updating online privacy policy

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...