Solar Energy: Securing Self-Dependency And Brighter Future for Gaza

By Ruth Tenne

The joint statement by 30 international aid agencies (26 February 2015), clearly indicates the level of frustration with the lack of progress made in Gaza in the aftermath of Israel’s onslaught: “The Israeli-imposed blockade continues, the political process, along with the economy, are paralyzed, and living conditions have worsened. Reconstruction and repairs to the tens of thousands of homes, hospitals, and schools damaged or destroyed in the fighting has been woefully slow”.
The aid agencies’ statement echoes an earlier UN General Assembly Resolution 68/235 (December 3013) which has been “expressing concern about the widespread destruction caused by Israel, the occupying Power, to vital infrastructure, including water pipelines and sewage networks, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in particular in the Gaza Strip, which, inter alia, pollutes the environment and negatively affects the water supply and other natural resources of the Palestinian people, and stressing the urgency of the reconstruction and development of water infrastructure, including the project for the desalination facility for the Gaza Strip”.
In the aftermath of Israel assault on Gaza (July/August 2014), suggested solutions starting to have emerged in the form of community-based efforts to restore the ruined infra-structure and the damaged electricity grid , water and sewage systems in Gaza. According to a recent report (17 February 2015) a non-profit humanitarian organization -Solar Gaza- is working to bring solar energy to the people of Gaza. The report argues that “the best thing about solar powered energy units is that they are not polluting the environment like petrol is and the sun is shining for everybody for free. Electricity independence with solar power in Gaza would transform the darkened and terrorized enclave into a place bustling with activities. Shops would be able to store and freeze goods again, offices would be able to function as usual again and people who work in hospitals, schools, or shelters would be able to use all the electric equipment they need again. The homes where computers, sewing machines, printers, televisions and hair driers would be used again, and would come alive after a long darkness. Even street lamps could be blazing their lights into the dark night”. It goes on to say that “In addition to installing solar panels in the area, Solar Gaza also plans to hire people from the local community and provide employment opportunities for the local economy”. Thus, asking donors to donate solar power units for the re-generation of Gaza. [2]

Is fossil energy a feasible alternative?

A number of political commentators, and activists argue that Gaza’s economic future depends on successful exploration of its natural gas reserves which were discovered in 2000 – about 22 miles off -shore of Gaza . The discovery was made by the British Gas Group, which in 1999 had been granted a 25- year licence by the Palestinian Authority, following the Oslo Accords (1993/4). The current contract’s share of PA is 10% with an option of expanding PA’s share to 40%. The Palestinian Investment Fund (PIF) 2012 Annual Report noted that the value of the natural gas off- shore Gaza depends “largely on global prices but put a total value at “several billion dollars” – which is estimated to be between 2.5 to 5 billion dollars (in pre-decline oil prices), and having a potential of lasting about 20 years. Yet , according to the latest Brooking Institute’s report “Natural gas cannot be supplied to the Gaza Strip owing to the current lack of infrastructure, which adds significantly to the costs of electricity and contributes to air pollution in the crowded Strip (since diesel fuel is more expensive and polluting). Energy supply in Gaza is, thus, heavily reliant on imports of electricity, from Israel and Egypt”. [3] The only power plant in Gaza has been twice damaged by Israel’s air strikes, and ,currently, could only produce fraction of the needed energy supply in Gaza strip. According to a recent Washington Institute’s report, there is available land for a terminal for the gas from Gaza Marine in the industrial zone to the south of the city of Ashkelon. [4] However, the technical development, piping, and processing of Gaza Marine’s Gas requires full co-operation between the two sides which, so far, has failed to materialize due to Israel’s repeated attacks on Gaza and the air, sea ,and land blockade which have been aiming ,amongst other things, to prevent Hamas , from enjoying the potential revenue of Gaza Marine. The Brooking Institute’s report argues that: “technically, Gaza Marine is a comparatively simple field to exploit. Its operator, BG Group (formerly British Gas), the PA, the United States, and the Office of the Quartet Representative have all attempted to promote its development. From its discovery until 2007, BG was involved in a series of negotiations with the Israeli government for the sale of natural gas from the field .However, by 2007, after failing to reach an agreement, BG Group withdrew from the negotiations. In 2008, the BG Group closed its office in Israel, though, according to the company yearbook, it continues to hold its 90% share in Gaza Marine, though this share may decline in the future”. The report concludes that “series of events including the collapse of the talks in April 2014, the announcement of a Palestinian unity government between Fatah and Hamas, the subsequent decision of the Israeli government to cut off ties to the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas have once again put development plans on hold. At present, the prospects for the development of an independent Palestinian energy system are low”. [3]

Solar Energy: a viable option for energy self -dependency and economic regeneration of Gaza

A recent article, published in the Ecologist by Professor Keith Barnham of Imperial College (September 2014) – entitled Gaza -Renewable Energy for Just and Durable Peace – outlines a plan for Gaza that is based on massive deployment of solar and wind power generation. [5] Professor Barnahm also highlights the environmental, political, economic and social benefits which solar, wind power, and biogas (waste) energy are likely to bring to Gaza Strip. Indeed, Gaza has already been using solar energy in both public building (e.g. hospitals, schools, mosques), and residential properties. According to another publication, Gaza is an excellent source for producing solar energy as it reportedly has 300 days of sun per year. However, so far, the production of solar energy is not connected to the main grid whose electricity supply mainly comes from Israel and Egypt (about 35% each) , and from the bombed and damaged power plant of Gaza (30%) .
Moreover, Gaza Strip is in position to use wind and wave power as it is located by the Mediterranean sea. Yet, Israel is in full control of Gaza’s territorial water and, in breach of the Oslo Agreement, it does not allow Gaza fishermen to fish outside an arbitrary water zone of 3 nautical miles – thus, depriving the fishermen of their main livelihood ( which initially amounted to 4% of the Gaza economy) as well as blocking any re-development along the Gaza coastline, and restoration of the heavily- bombed port.
Professor Keith Barnham argues that” In addition to providing power that is not dependent on fossil fuel imports or supply from Israel, another important function of the electricity will be to provide clean, pumped water. This will be vital to avoid epidemics and further despair for the population of Gaza. The electricity generation from renewables, rather than from imported fossil fuels, clearly offers benefits for the West Bank and Israel itself…..Renewable technology can help break through the fear and hatred on both sides and create conditions for the fully mandated negotiations that offer the only lasting solution to this 67 year-old conflict”.
Furthermore, In his article Professor Barnham advances some very realistic suggestions for lifting the blockade on Gaza and regenerating its economy through the development and access of renewable technology into the Strip.
Those include:
1. Recognition of Hamas by Western governments .
2. UN- organised and monitored fresh elections in Gaza Strip and the West Bank (the last election in the OPT took place in 2006)- thus offering the Palestinians the chance to elect a government of their choice which is to be respected by Western states .
3. Mandating the elected government’s representatives to negotiate a long-term peace treaty with Israel – under UN verification- which would include the lifting of the blockade and allows renewable technology into Gaza.
4. Independently monitor the agreed ceasefire by UN observers who would be stationed on the borders inside Gaza as well as being present at border crossings and sea to secure the lifting of the siege on Gaza .
Following the destruction of Gaza by Israel’s latest assault (2014) the British Government has committed about 40 million pounds in aid. In addition, the EU has pledged £353 millions in aid and restoration of Gaza. Moreover, the international community pledged US$ 5.4 billions for the reconstruction of Gaza, though, so far, only a fraction of this amount has reached Gaza. Such a global commitment should be partly used for the development of renewable technology in Gaza and help revive the Gazan economy- eliminating its dependency on fossil fuels imported from neighbouring countries, or produced by oil and gas conglomerates. It will also protect Gaza’s economy from volatile commercial markets, and the changeable geopolitical conditions of the region which is subjected to continued unrest and warfare.
The Coalition against Arms Trade (CAAT, UK) has also recognised the importance of developing renewable energy. It has recently launched a new campaign of “Arms to Renewables”, endorsing the Climate Change Movement’s argument that in order “to address the causes and consequences of climate change fundamental change will be required to change a system which accepts the logic of thousands of weapons of mass destruction and the continual consumption of fossil fuels which science has shown is leading down a path of environmental, social and economic destruction”. [6 ] The Arms to Renewable campaign may not have immediate implications for the dire situation in Gaza. However , it is quite obvious that a sustainable regeneration of Gaza demands an immediate lifting of the blockade as well as ensuring Gaza’s security by imposing restrictions,and a ( targeted ) embargo on arms trading with Israel. In reply to my concerns about those issues , the UK Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East has written ( 5.2.2015) to say, in somewhat non-committal manner: “we continue to stress to the Israeli authorities the damage that their restrictions are doing to the living standards of ordinary Palestinians in Gaza and that supporting legal trade for Gazans is firmly in Israel’s long-term interests…. We do not believe that imposing a blanket arms embargo on Israel would promote the urgent progress towards the resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which we want to see. We continue to monitor and assess the situation in Israel and the OPTs and take into account the latest circumstances when assessing licence application. We will only approve equipment which is for Israel’s legitimate self-defence and where we are satisfied it would be consistent with the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria and other relevant commitments”.
The reconstruction of Gaza and its infrastructure may not be considered as a priority by the West. Yet Professor Keith Barnham’s strategy and plan of using sustainable, low-base solar, wind ,and waste technology for the economic revival and restoration of Gaza’s damaged infrastructure, is going a long way towards securing a future of self -dependency for Gaza. In the words of Professor Keith Barnhan:”Fundamentally, the conflict is about who owns the land, trees, water and holy sites. But no one owns the wind above the land and the sunlight falling on the land”. It is, indeed, the duty of world leaders (of both West and East) to ensure that the huge potential of renewable resources in Gaza is to be exploited for re-constructing its ruined infrastructure and strangulated economy.
We must not fail Gaza

References

  1. http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/18243939AAC02EB685257DF8005173CE
  2. http://www.trueactivist.com/non-profit-organization-brings-free-solar-energy-to-the-people-of-gaza/
  3. 3.http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2015/02/eastern-mediterranean-papers/gaza-marine-natural-gas/gaza-marine-web.pdf
  1. http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/palestinian-natural-gas-ambitions
  2. 5.http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2538142/gaza_renewable_energy_for_a_just_a_durable_peace.html
  1. https://www.caat.org.uk/campaigns/arms-to-renewables