Solar Palestine

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An engineer from Gaza and several scientists from the Italian NGO Sunshine4Palestine, guaranteed electricity to an entire hospital with a photovoltaic energy system. Now they want to illuminate a refugee camp road, Shate, and are offergreen projects and water purifiers. 

Gaza, February 19, 2015 – The engineer Haitham Ghanem has had a life more or less similar to that of many other Palestinian refugees. Forced to leave Kuwait during the first Gulf War between Iraq and the “Allies” – the first of many coalitions made up from Washington for its wars in the Middle East – Ghanem with little money arrives in Jordan, where meets his wife, then, after a period of study in the US, they pass that patch of Palestinian land that is the Gaza Strip. Since then they have lived with the other inhabitants of Gaza, three large Israeli military offensive bases and a large number of smaller attacks, but not just devastating and lethal. The engineer Ghanem however does not despair. He likes to describe to foreigners who come visit, the extraordinary ability of the Palestinians in Gaza, what they do, build and realize, despite the daily difficulties, the lack of means, the blockade imposed by Israel and the isolation practiced by Egypt.

Gaza has many excellences, but we hear very little of these. Maryam Abu Eatewi, for example, is a young laureate in computer science at the Islamic University of Gaza. With a small amount of funding from Google, she has created an app for smartphones, Wasslni, for the rationalization of taxi transport in urban centers and from a city to the other. In a few months Wasslni raised the interest of major companies between Jordan and the Emirates and Maryam, along with guys like her, promptly opened “Gaza Sky Geeks”, a start up in support of the digital impreditoria.

“Excellence in Gaza are many but unfortunately the problems are huge and among the most serious is the lack of available electricity,” says Ghanem while in a taxi we move together toward the district Shujayea, one of the most devastated by Israeli bombardments last summer. “We have only one power plant that could cover only part of the requirements – he continues – I talking in the because it has been hit by the Israelis and now it does not longer work. The little electricity, available few hours a day, reaches in rotation the various areas of Gaza, and it arrives from Israel and Egypt. It is a huge problem that affects the whole population and creates great hardships to public services, starting with the health system”. Ghanem has long studied the technical possibilities to help hospitals, forced to resort to expensive generators employed to secure the energy needed to remain operational. “The turning point occurred in 2011, thanks to a unexpected meeting between scientists on the internet. I got to know the Italians Barbara Capone and Ivan Coluzza, researchers at the University of Vienna”. From that day Ghanem and his Italian colleagues have formed, as well as a very productive partnership, a sincere friendship. To date, however, the Palestinian engineer and his friends could only see each other on Skype, because he has not yet obtained a permit from the Egyptians and Israelis, to leave Gaza, while the Italian scientists have not had the green light to enter the Strip.

The distance did not prevent the realization of the first joint project, on which has worked Haitham Ghanem with funding of Sunshine4Palestine (S4P) – the NGO set up by Barbara Capone and Ivan Coluzza – the result of several donations, among the first that of Vik Utopia Onlus, a foundation dedicated to Vittorio Arrigoni, a name that Gaza will never forget. Thanks to Sunshine4Palestine, the Jenin Charitable Hospital in Shujayea, where Ghanem has brought us, has become the first public facility in Gaza powered 100% by solar energy. “A good result – says satisfied the engineer – we built on the roof of the hospital a photovoltaic plant, and we completed it last November”. Moving with quick steps in the building, Ghanem explains that the system allows the hospital, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, to have electricity from 7 to 24, every day of the year. The entrances to Jenin Hospital in December, the first period in which the photovoltaic system worked at full capacity, increased by 63%, compared to the same month of 2013. In a year, the plant, even with a partial operation, has allowed an increase of 170% in the number of patients. And 2015 will only see those numbers grow in an area, Shujayea, who paid dearly for the Israeli offensive in July and August.

It was not easy to collect 100 thousand Euros needed for the purchase of solar panels, all components of the system and to carry out the work, including adjustment of the electrical system of the hospital. But ideas are not lacking in the group of scientists.

Seen the recent successes, Sunshine4Palestine began to develop other projects for the supply of solar clean, energy, directly to the people of Gaza. “Look this way,” says Haitham Ghanem. We are at the eastern entrance of the camp Shate, home to 80,000 refugees. “It’s called the road Al Qouthi and goes on for 800 meters deep into the refugee camp. In the evening it is completely dark and the people living there faces many hardships, women and children prefer not to leave the house after sunset. We want to be able to completely lighten in up. ” S4P, together with the associations Liter of Light Italy and Beyond the Sea, will implement a photovoltaic “Tree of Light”, consisting of 12 panels, each of which will produce 300W for a total peak production of 3.6KWP. Not only that, it will be made a multipurpose laboratory to explain to the refugees how to build a domestic solar LED lamps from recycled materials (such as plastic bottles). The area affected will be redeveloped and the creation of a multi-theme park is also in the project. “We do not stop here – promises Barbara Capone – like Sunshine4Palestine, we also propose alternatives to the project of building a single desalination plant in Gaza”. Thanks to the new technologies, such as grapheme membranes, the so-called blue energy (the extraction of energy that derives from the ion exchange between fresh water and salt water), S4P is designing the redevelopment of certain existing desalination plants and their conversion into fully photovoltaic power plants. Each of these desalination centers can meet the needs of a population of 5,000-6,000 people. “We also propose – continues the researcher – the extraction of water from atmospheric humidity through hygroscopic salts, in order to make autonomous and off-grid buildings such as schools and palaces. With our projects we want to plant the seeds for the systematic use of the sun. Clean energy resources must be at the service of the population, who was severely affected by the lack of electricity and water shortages“.

So far, many new forces have joined S4P for the realization of new projects: Emanuela Bianchi, Peter Van Oostrum, Safaa Ghanem and Patrizia Cecconi. In the meantime Barbara Capone and Haitham Ghanem had been invited to explain their projects to a major seminar on the rights and needs of the Palestinian people to the United Nations, conference expected in Cairo on February 23rd and 24th. For the first time the two colleagues could meet in person and shake hands, as well as having the opportunity to present their work to a wide audience. Suddenly the Egyptian authorities have changed their minds, communicating to many guests, just a couple of days ago, who would prefer to postpone the meeting, due to unspecified “logistical reasons”. The sudden setback is mysterious. Someone whispers that participation in the seminar of the Palestinians in Gaza was not well seen in Cairo. Others say that Egypt, militarily involved in the Libyan crisis, want to avoid or postpone events which would require the “adoption of tight security”.

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