In response to the suffocating and continuous electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians in Gaza have begun searching for alternative means of generating electricity, including: generators, batteries, and now solar panels that convert the sun's energy into electricity.
The Gaza Strip started suffering from a more severe shortage of electricity and fuel after the Egyptian army staged a coup against elected President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July. The Egyptian army immediately launched a fierce campaign against the tunnels located under the Egypt-Gaza border, demolishing most of them, even though the Palestinians in Gaza have been relying on them for their basic and humanitarian needs ever since the intensification of Israel's blockade in 2007.
Now, some hospitals, factories, shops, universities, and schools have started relying on solar energy as an alternative to electric generators. The government in Gaza also uses these solar panels to light the Gaza Marina. However, the high costs of such panels prevent the average citizen from purchasing them. Moreover, Israel prohibits these panels from entering the Strip and now that the tunnels have been closed, getting the panels into Gaza will be even more difficult.
Nevertheless, as a result of the lack of Egyptian fuel and the increased price of Israeli fuel, Palestinians in Gaza are beginning to abandon the fuel-operated generators, the misuse of which has caused dozens of deaths and injuries, and instead are resorting to batteries or solar energy panels, which have become a strategic, but costly solution.
Solar panel electricity
Mr Mahmoud Abu Nusra, aged 58, is one example of a person who found the combination of solar panels and batteries, which light up his house both day and night, to be a lifesaver. Before installing them, he only had light for a few hours each day.
Mr Abu Nusra's house is now lit around the clock, and he does not have to worry about losing power when the electricity is on or off.
The solar panels were not Mr Abu Nusra's first choice, as he had tried the Uninterruptible Battery System (UBS) first, which needs to be charged with electricity. However, the fact that the electricity was not on long enough to charge the batteries was an issue.
This is where the solar panels helped. Abu Nusra explained that: "A few months ago, I began using solar power to light up my house, as it saves me the money I pay for the electricity bill – for the electricity that is never on. The solar power battery is able to provide electricity to all the lights in my house, powering everything but the washing machine and the refrigerator, which only operate on regular electricity because the batteries cannot supply the voltage required for the two appliances."
Abu Nusra further pointed out that the battery is now charged by the solar panels that he installed on the roof of his house. The panels absorb and store sunlight, which is then converted into electric energy used to light the house.
He also noted that the solar panels and batteries are very easy to use and cost effective, and he advises all capable citizens to install them because they save money and provide electricity around the clock.
As for the use of the panels when there isn't much sunlight, such as during the winter, he said, "The solar panels are charged by the light, thus do not require for the sky to be clear as they do not rely on the heat, but rather the light of the sun."
In terms of the cost, Mr Abu Nusra said that the necessary solar panels and batteries costs $1500 to operate the lights alone, however he noted that as a result of these panels, his electric bill has reduced from NIS 600 to only NIS 100 a month.
He admitted that: "The costs of purchasing the panels and batteries are very high, which discourages citizens from buying them, especially because retailers ask for higher prices. However", he added, "because I work in the commercial field, I bought my batteries out of my own pocket from outside of Gaza, so they cost me $250, and I bought the panels locally."
Abu Nusra added, "I intend on totally doing without the electric cables and cancelling my electricity coverage, and buying more batteries in order to operate all of my electrical appliances. I am also thinking about buying solar panels for my six children's homes."
Abu Nusra also urged retailers to keep in mind the citizens' economic situation and to reduce the prices in order for solar batteries to become more widely used by the people in the Strip.
Psychological and financial comfort
Mr Abu Ramzi Sha'aban, who lives in Jabaliya, had the same experiences as Mr Abu Nusra. He was also attracted to the idea of using solar panels after seeing the Great Omari Mosque successfully using them a year ago.
Sha'aban said that the solar panels are connected to the battery, which converts solar energy into an electric current. They can be charged both electrically and by sunlight.
Mr Sha'aban no longer has to suffer from the noise or smell of the electric generator that he had to use instead of electricity during the times when it was cut off. He says that after using the solar energy battery, he feels "financially and psychologically rested".
"I do not feel the power cuts; my house is never dark thanks to the solar panel technology."
Dr Mahmoud Shaheen, a researcher specialising in solar power, explained that solar energy is being wasted in Gaza, especially considering that other natural resources are lacking. Thus solar energy is a magic solution to the electricity crisis that the Palestinians in Gaza have been suffering from ever since the beginning of the Israeli blockade.
He also said that the system of installing solar panels on rooftops and then connecting them to special batteries that convert solar energy (sunlight) into electric energy is an efficient way to light homes.
Dr Shaheen was one of the first to embrace solar power and abandon electricity. He has been using solar energy for his house for about 20 years.
He also pointed out that solar panels have been around for almost 50 years, and, depending on their quality, the batteries do not cost much to fix.
Regarding the high prices of installing the panels and batteries, Dr Shaheen said, "For minimum lighting by means of solar panels, it costs about $300, while installing enough to operate all electric household appliances costs about $7000. However, when this is compared to the amount of money people will save on their electricity bills, it only works out to about NIS .5 a day."
Dr Shaheen also pointed out that only a small group of citizens have resorted to solar power due to the harsh economic circumstances they are currently suffering from: the increased poverty, the unemployment, and the lack of cash.
In order to spread the idea, Dr Shaheen called on the government to educate the people and inform them about solar energy in schools and mosques. This way, the people will learn more about the importance of investing in solar energy.
He also noted that establishing solar power fields would benefit the people of Gaza, as the sun shines on Gaza about 300 days a year. However, the lack of funding required to establish such fields prevents Palestinians in Gaza from fully utilising this clean energy.