The UNDPs Renewable Energy Generation through Solar Panels for Public Education, Health and Water Facilities project is part of the agencys support to the Palestinian Solar Initiative, which aims to achieve 30% of energy demands from renewable resources by 2020. The OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) is financing the project with $529,300.
Some 1.8 million people live on less than eight hours of electricity a day in the Gaza Strip as a result of the Israeli blockade and fuel shortages, according to the UNDP. More than 60% of households are supplied with running water for six to eight hours once every four days. The UN agency adds that more than 14,000 hectares of land planted with fruits and vegetables are at risk of drought due to irregular power supply.
Solar solution ideal for Gaza
The Gaza Strip has an average of 320 days of sunshine a year, making renewable energy an ideal option. The annual average solar intensity in the Gaza Strip is about 222 W per square meter — an optimal environment for the operation of photovoltaic cells. The installation of solar cells in schools and hospitals will benefit 107,000 people overall, the UNDP points out.
While some medical facilities were already equipped with solar arrays, some were destroyed in recent hostilities with Israel. During the fighting last year, which resulted in more than 2,200 deaths, most of them Palestinian, Al Falouja School, a beneficiary from the project, was used as a shelter for more than 3,550 people who depended on solar energy for their daily needs.
Around 70% of Gazas schools currently operate double shifts to accommodate about 200,000 students on a daily basis. Schools, hospital emergency rooms, maternity wards and local businesses have been affected the most by the energy shortage. The current electricity deficit of 61% has resulted in 8 to 12 hours of daily power cuts, affecting the entire Gaza population.
"Electricity is life," said Maha El Tawil, headmistress at the Bashir El Rayyes High School. "Many parents requested that we buy a generator but it was not an option. The fuel, if available, is too costly and having a generator will strain an already limited budget. Add to that noise and environmental pollution. We needed a better alternative."
Bashir El Rayyes High School, which serves around 1,800 female students over a two-shift period, is one of four schools to benefit from the UNDPs renewable energy generation project. The initiative also included the installation of solar panels at two maternity clinics in addition to a submersible pump for the Downs Syndrome society in Gaza, which serves 1,000 children.
"The electricity shortage hindered the educational process, especially in winter," Maha says. "This was a challenge for teachers and students operating the second shift. We used to teach in the dark — unable to read what was written on the board nor in the books."
According to the UNDP report, new solar systems have allowed classrooms to be lit during power cuts and, most importantly, students to enjoy their computer classes, which had been put on hold for long periods.
The UNDP adds that the Renewable Energy Generation project will improve the livelihoods of some 107,000 people, raise awareness about clean energy and lay the groundwork for the energy transition saving money, creating jobs and protecting the environment.