Can green energy help Palestinians unplug from Israel?
Green energy proponents hope to convince Palestinians that renewables can give them greater autonomy from Israel and is more affordable in the long run.
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These geothermal systems do not increase overall power output. Instead they cut the amount of energy needed for cooling and heating, which account for up to 60 percent of the power consumed by buildings. But they requires an upfront investment that Sawabi says foreign donors, the PA, and private developers have been hesitant to provide. However, investment in renewable energy infrastructure now will help to decrease reliance on foreign aid in the future.Skip to next paragraph
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“No matter how attractive a green technology is, if it’s not affordable, nobody will use it,” says Sabawi.
While renewable energy systems cost substantially more than conventional systems, due to the Palestinian territories' high energy costs it takes less time to start generating saving on the initial investment.
'Energy we can control'
Geothermal technology is just one of several additional energy sources Palestinians are investigating for fueling their burgeoning economy.
“You can build a house, but if there is no electricity no one will come and rent it,” says Jamal Abu Ghosh, Director of the Program Monitoring Unit at the Palestinian Energy Authority. “A shortage in electricity will cause problems for the economy, for the water sector, for everything. So the development of the electricity must always be faster.”
The PA has plans to build two conventional power plants in the West Bank to meet rapidly growing demand, but those will still require imported fuel to generate electricity.
For resource-impoverished Palestinians, the only way to improve energy security is through renewable sources, according Afif Akel Hasan, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at Birzeit University near Ramallah. Solar is already used to heat water and a wind turbine planned for Hebron will provide the city’s main hospital with about 40 percent of its electricity.
“We have high solar potential,” he says, adding that the university alone has an annual electric bill of nearly a half million dollars. With virtually no rain and few cloudy days between May and September, harnessing solar energy could produce millions of watts per year here.
“We need a source of energy we can control to some extent,” says Dr. Hasan, who is a member of Palestinian Solar and Sustainable Energy Society, a coalition of academics, business leaders and politicians promoting renewable energy. "We need to make people here aware of the importance of green energy,” he adds.
Aside from a couple of small organizations and a handful of projects, few here have boarded the green energy bandwagon. However, Mr. Abu Ghosh says his department is now completing a study of power options for a future state, which includes renewable energy.
“We aim to have more than one supply, but not to be completely disconnected from Israel,” says Abu Ghosh, who stresses the importance of diversifying to improve energy security. In the coming weeks his office will release the report outlining the energy alternatives for the Palestinians. He says biofuels, wind, and solar are all on the list of possible sources for a future state. But the use of these technologies is still rare as there are few incentives and no legislation favoring green energy in Palestine.
Despite the challenges, Sabawi is convinced green energy is crucial to an independent power supply for Palestine. “We really have no choice. We’re not in a position […] to continue building and depending on other countries for energy,” says Sabawi. “That really compromises the security of an aspiring nation state.”