GAZA CITY: Palestinians living in the Israeli-blockade enclave of Gaza have long endured erratic and costly electricity supplies, so Yasir Al-Hajj found a different way: Solar power.
Looking at the rows of photovoltaic panels at his waterfront fish farm and seafood restaurant The Sailor, he says the investment he made six years ago is paying off.
“Electricity is the backbone of the project,” said Hajj, standing under the blazing Mediterranean sun. “We rely on it to provide oxygen to the fish, as well as to pump and draw water from the sea.”
Dozens of solar panels shading the fishponds below, while workers loaded sand onto horse-drawn carts, brought savings that are now paying for business recovery.
Hajj said he used to pay 150,000 shekels ($42,000) a month for electricity before solar reduced his monthly bill to 50,000 shekels, a “huge burden.”
For most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people, who live under Hamas rule and a 15-year Israeli blockade, power outages are a daily fact of life, affecting everything from homes to hospital wards.
While some Gazans pay a generator to kick in when the power goes out — about half every day, according to the UN — more and more are turning to renewable energy sources.
Solar panels now stretch to the horizon from the rooftops of Gaza City.
Proponents of green energy say it’s a vision for the global future as the world faces the dangers of climate change and rising energy costs.
Bishara Shehadeh, the owner of a Gaza bakery, began the transition to solar energy this summer by installing hundreds of glowing panels on her roof.
“We already have electricity during the day,” he said. “We sell it to the electricity company in exchange for giving us electricity at night.”
Solar power powers the bright bulbs that illuminate the bustling bakery, but the ovens still run on diesel.
“We are working on importing stoves from Israel depending on electricity to save on the cost of diesel,” Shehadeh said.
Both the bakery and the fish farm have relied in part on foreign donors to start the transition to solar power, although their owners are also investing their own money.
But not everyone can afford to install renewable energy in the poverty-stricken area, where nearly 80 percent of residents rely on humanitarian aid, according to the UN.
According to an estimate published in April by the journal Energy, Sustainability and Society, about a fifth of Gazans have installed solar power in their homes.
Financing options are available for Gazans with some capital, like Shehadeh, who received a four-year loan to finance a bakery project.
Shehab Hussain, an engineer at MegaPower, a store that sells solar kits, said prices start at about $1,000 and can be paid in installments. Customers include a garment factory and a beverage manufacturer, which see the largely Chinese-made technology as a “worthwhile investment.”
Raya Al-Dadah, director of the University of Birmingham’s Sustainable Energy Technology Laboratory, said her family in Gaza has been using simple solar panels to heat water for more than 15 years.
“The pipe is very rusty, the glass is broken … and I just took a shower and the water is very hot,” he said during a visit to the site.
But Dadah ran into obstacles trying to import a more advanced solar system for a community project in Gaza, where imports are severely restricted by Israel and Egypt.
“It turned out to be impossible to bring them to the Gaza Strip,” he said.
Advanced installation includes more efficient panels and equipment that follow the path of the sun.
Chief executive Gil Kreuzer told AFP that such technology is being used by Israeli firms such as SolarGik, whose smart control systems can influence weather conditions and use 20 percent more energy than standard panels.
Across the Gaza border, in the absence of such high-tech equipment, Dadah uses standard panels to power its women’s center and surrounding homes in Jabaliya, north of the Strip.