Solar in Gaza, photovoltaic resilience under fire – pv magazine Australia
From pv magazine 07/2021
A chronic electricity deficit in Gaza continues to negatively impact health, water and sanitation services. Local communities, as well as international organizations, are seeking solar power in hopes of building a more resilient future, but the challenges are immense: borders closed, damage to existing solar power, limited supplies and limited space. Nevertheless, the need is undeniable.
“Electricity is essential to all of our lives and we don’t realize it until we have it. This is especially the case in Gaza, where households only have four to five hours of electricity a day, ”said Chitose Noguchi, who currently works for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as a Deputy Special Representative to the Palestinian People and Head of his Office in Gaza. She describes the situation as representing an energy crisis.
“Basic services related to schools, hospitals and water desalination and treatment all depend on electricity. Not having a stable supply makes it extremely difficult for the people of Gaza to lead a normal life and access the most basic needs, ”Noguchi added.
Solar in Gaza
The energy situation in the small coastal enclave, populated mostly by Palestinian refugees, has deteriorated dramatically after the recent escalation between the ruling Hamas organization and the Israeli military. The deficit between energy supply and demand widened further, reaching a deficit of 75% and prompting Gaza Electricity Distribution Corp. to provide only four hours of electricity at a time, followed by 16 hours without electricity.
The company said the fuel entry ban triggered a cut in electricity produced by Gaza’s only power plant. This power plant has a current working capacity of 45 MW, down from its initial capacity of 140 MW, as it was bombed in recent waves of violence. Power shortages have been common in Gaza for the past decade, although the situation has improved slightly in recent years.
In light of the dysfunctional nature of the grid, diesel generators have become the primary source of electricity, resulting in greater reliance on limited fuel supplies. However, the aggregate supply from all sources falls short of meeting Gaza’s electricity needs.
At the same time, solar energy is transforming Gaza’s energy system. The simplicity and modality of disturbed generation PV systems allow them to become the favorable solution to overcome power outages. In addition, the region has excellent solar resources, with 320 days of sunshine per year on average, making solar projects a worthwhile investment.
As early as 2013, hospitals in Gaza began using solar photovoltaic systems to secure their electricity supply. Solar systems are often paired with hybrid storage batteries or diesel generators in a hybrid fashion to provide electricity overnight. Systems connected to the grid under a net metering system are in principle authorized by the Palestinian authorities. However, additional regulation is needed to ensure technical compatibility with distribution networks.
In terms of number, around 10 MW of solar photovoltaic systems are installed by aid agencies and an additional 10 MW are in preparation. A 7 MW project is also underway to install 21,000 solar panels on the roofs of factories and warehouses in Gaza’s industrial zone. Although there are many factors encouraging the development of solar PV projects in Gaza, political instability and the limited availability of uninhabited areas can hamper large-scale solar PV developments.
Solar systems have so far focused on providing electricity for essential health, education and sanitation services. Here, UNDP is engaged, explained Noguchi. “In Gaza, we have focused on providing support, whether it is stand-alone solar projects or incorporated into existing facilities,” she said. “We have supplied several solar systems to schools, health facilities and wastewater treatment plants. In total, UNDP installed 2.5 MW of solar projects, investing around $ 6 million.
In particular, the education system in Gaza suffers from power shortages. As schools often have to operate in multiple shifts to accommodate all students, many classes are held early in the morning or in the evening when lighting is needed. Electricity is also needed to run computers and laboratories.
Unfortunately, some of the solar systems that UNDP has installed in schools suffered damage in recent Israeli attacks on Gaza. For example, in a newly installed solar system at a private school that accommodates 950 students, 130 modules out of a total of 170 were damaged. Six other systems installed in government schools have gone offline and require repair.
Gaza’s borders remain closed after the recent escalation, but Noguchi hopes that it will soon be possible to bring solar equipment to the area again. UNDP alone has many active solar projects in Gaza, as well as in the West Bank of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in cooperation with various donors and partners. Officials of the organization stress the need for increased donor support and seek opportunities for cooperation with suppliers and manufacturers of solar equipment.
The water situation is no better. Israel’s scarce groundwater and supplies are the only sources of fresh water. Often, households have to go days without running water. The wastewater ends up in the ground or in the sea, because the treatment facilities are not sufficient. In recent weeks, untreated water has been pumped into the sea around Gaza during the escalation, creating an environmental crisis.
It is hoped that a recently commissioned processing plant will improve the situation. Funded by the German government, the Gaza central processing station was commissioned on April 28. The station will reliably treat the wastewater of around 1 million inhabitants. Remarkably, the plant is self-sufficient in energy, with its own solar system and biogas generator. The plant will also likely supply neighboring communities with electricity from excess generation. UNDP is leading similar efforts to install solar panels at the Khan Younis wastewater treatment plant with the aim of reducing operating costs by 50%.
Solar electrification of the health system in Gaza has proven to have great potential, according to a technical assessment conducted in 2019 by the Palestinian Ministry of Health, in cooperation with international organizations. Hospitals and healthcare facilities can achieve annual electricity cost savings of $ 2.6 million by introducing solar PV systems, combined with energy efficiency measures. The study notes that the expected daily energy demand for the proposed solar systems will vary depending on the availability of physical space for the deployment of the panels. Such projects will make hospitals more resistant to power outages. This is currently critical given the growing demand for cooling as part of the Covid-19 vaccination efforts.
Farmers also benefit from solar applications to protect agricultural production and improve their livelihoods. Photovoltaic technology is an excellent alternative to exploit irrigation wells and pumping systems. In a project supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 16 irrigation wells and 51 water collection ponds were fitted with solar-powered pumping systems. The project succeeded in increasing the amount of water extracted and therefore agricultural production, reducing operating costs for farmers by 70%.
Empowerment of women
Beyond the direct benefit of solar power in providing affordable and clean electricity, it also creates new opportunities for growth and employment in Gaza. With the youth unemployment rate of 70% and the blockade of nearly 14 years, Gaza’s economy is in desperate need of a revival.
UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency, offers professional solar energy training that includes installation and maintenance of photovoltaic systems. Trainees gain their first practical experience in a solar energy laboratory and workshop equipped with sampling equipment and measuring tools. Graduates are then offered apprenticeship employment opportunities at local companies.
This initiative, funded by the German development agency GIZ, aims to increase community awareness and adaptability, while promoting sustainable energy sources. Women participate remarkably in this empowerment opportunity, breaking down barriers in an area dominated largely by men.
UNRWA reports one such success story, Ghada Zaki, who completed one of the training courses. The 20-year-old described her early days in the training program, before becoming one of the first female technicians to install, operate and repair solar PV systems for a local business.
“At the beginning, our colleagues who were men were surprised that there were women in the program. They were questioning our ability to hold the drill and weld steel beams, but we didn’t pay attention, ”Zaki said. “The women supported each other until the camaraderie became contagious and our male colleagues evolved and started supporting us as well.”
Author: Amjad Khashmann