Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Palestinian-Israeli Power Play: renewable energy as a tool for independence


By Myriam Purtscher - August 20, 2018
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Gaza Blockade] [electricity]

With the world on the brink of a climate change catastrophe, many countries are turning to renewable energy as a means of power production. However, in the occupied Palestinian territories, renewable energy means much more than saving the environment.

The West Bank is heavily dependant on imported electricity to meet their power needs, sourcing 95 percent of their energy from Israel. Since the 1980s, the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) was granted a concession by the Israeli Civil Administration to supply all of the West Bank’s electricity.
 
In Gaza, even with imports from Israel (and to a lesser extent Egypt), the two-million population barely have enough energy to allow for more than 4 hours of electricity a day.
 
Currently, power from the sun constitutes less than 1 percent of total consumed energy in the occupied Palestinian territories. However, many Palestinians are looking to the sun to reduce the cost of energy needs, and in turn, reduce dependency on Israel.
 
In a land where the sun shines on average 320 days every year, the West Bank and Gaza Strip has the highest cost of electricity in the Arab world. An average Palestinian household will spend 10 percent of their income on on electricity - much higher than the average 2 percent spent in Jordan or Lebanon.
 
This prohibitive cost of energy is a “critical” reason why Palestine needs a stronger renewable energy sector to lessen dependence on Israel, as Executive Manager of 3K Solar company in Ramallah, Ayman Kaloti explained to Palestine Monitor.
 
“The sun is an abundant source of energy and right now we are dependent on imported and expensive electricity. Energy independence is a key factor for economic growth and economic independence,” Katoli said. “As long as we don't control our energy, we really don’t have much control over our economy.”
 
The true cost of living
 
Energy from the sun might be free, however the challenges of living under occupation make importing and building solar farms an expensive and often futile endeavor.
 
In 2017, Israel dismantled $600,000 worth of solar panels donated by the Dutch government to the Bedouin community of Jubba al-Dibb in Area C of the occupied West Bank, leaving residents with no alternative power source except limited Israeli electricity.
 
Area C refers to land in the West Bank that is under full Israeli control. Where Israel retains exclusive authority over law enforcement and building construction. Structures built without permits are regularly served with demolition orders resulting in Palestinian displacement from these areas. Around 60 percent of land in the West Bank is in Area C.
 
And in Gaza, Israel has recently limited all imports to the besieged enclave except for humanitarian supplies, meaning solar panels and batteries are banned from entering.
 
Kaloti said these acts by Israel is a form of political control over Gaza and Bedouin communities, intentionally “making life difficult” for the people living there.
 
“In Area C, they want to destroy the livelihood of the communities. They don’t want them to install solar, it makes their life hard. But in Gaza, they’re not necessarily trying to take over the land, they’re not allowing renewable energy to go in as a form of punishment and form of control.”
 
“Renewables give Palestinians a tool of overcoming those punishments,” Kaloti added.
 
Gaza requires 450 megawatts daily, but currently, it only receives around 150 – 180 megawatts, normally supplied by a diesel power plant and expensive imports from Israel leading to an electricity crisis in the Strip.
 
Communications Specialist for the United Nations Development Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (UNDP), Dania Darwish said the UNDP in partnership with Palestinian Energy Authority (PEnRA) initiated the Palestinian Solar Initiative in 2012, for the “deployment of renewable energy” in Palestine. However, as Darwish explained, their targets are far off Gaza becoming self sufficient.
 
“So far, 25 megawatts were generated from solar energy projects within the State of Palestine, 7 megawatts in the Gaza Strip and 18 megawatts in the West Bank.”
 
Darwish said Gaza’s socio economic situation, and the restriction of importing materials into the enclave were their main challenges when trying to implement solar energy farms in the Strip.
 
Life in the Strip
 
Water insecurity is one of the biggest issues facing the Gaza strip today. Over 90 percent of the water from Gaza's sole aquifer is unfit for human consumption.
 
The very high population density of Gaza, coupled with crumbling infrastructure, ongoing border closures, damages sustained in three Israeli military operations and the intra-Palestinian split has led to critical water insecurity in the Strip.
 
In August, the EU funded and completed the largest photovoltaic solar field in Gaza order to generate the 0.5 megawatts needed to run the Southern Gaza Desalination Plant. The plant will provide drinking water to 75,000 inhabitants in the Khan Younis and Rafah governorates.
 
European Union Representative Inas Abu-Shirbi told Palestine Monitor the desalination plant aims to provide 250,000 residents in southern Gaza with consistent clean water by 2020.
 
“The solar field will ensure a reliable source of energy for the desalination plant and contribute to the commitments of both Palestine and the EU to tackling climate change,” Abu-Shirbi explained.
 
But the completion of the desalination plant has not been without challenges. The recent closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza has meant severe delays to switching on the facility.
 
“The major difficulties in implementing water sector projects in Gaza and the related renewable energy components remain with the importing of materials into Gaza,” Abu-Shirbi said. “The procedures are not predictable and has resulted in significant delays of the project implementation.”
 
The Kerem Shalom crossing, which reopened last week, was sealed off for over a month by Israel, halting the import of vital products and fuel to Gaza in retaliation to Palestinians setting fire to Israeli land with incendiary kites.
 
EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn said in a press release, the solar field hopes to assist in mitigating tensions in a highly conflict sensitive area by providing “dignified living conditions for its people”.
 
The EU remains the largest donor in the Gaza Strip, both in terms of humanitarian and development support and has pledged €77 million for the construction of a large scale Central Gaza Desalination Plant which aims to provide the bulk of Gaza’s water supply.

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