Gaza - renewable energy for a just and durable peace

| 4th September 2014
From tiny acorns ... a pair of solar panels powering a desalination unit in the West Bank, installed in May 2013 with USAID finance. Photo: USAID via Flickr.
From tiny acorns ... a pair of solar panels powering a desalination unit in the West Bank, installed in May 2013 with USAID finance. Photo: USAID via Flickr.

Now multiply this by a million ... a pair of solar panels powering a desalination unit in the West Bank, installed in May 2013 with USAID finance. Photo: Diaa Karajeh for USAID via Flickr.

The war in Gaza is over - but with the territory in ruins, it's essential to build a just and durable peace, and restore essential public services: health, water, sewerage and above all electric power. Keith Barnham presents his plan for Gaza, based on a massive deployment of solar and wind power generation.
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.

Will the latest ceasefire between Gaza and Israel hold? The technology exists to ensure that the ceasefire is effective and to make this war, the most devastating of the three recent wars, the last.

Renewable technologies can power an international relief operation and provide an indigenous electricity supply that will help the ceasefire hold. They can also expedite negotiations on a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine.

Operations Cast Lead (2008) and Pillar of Cloud (2012) clearly did not achieve their aim of making Israelis feel more secure. Now that there is even more devastation, Gazan despair is likely to increase further. A new type of cease fire agreement is needed to avoid another damaging war.

Technical help for an effective ceasefire

An effective ceasefire agreement that allows renewable technology into Gaza needs to be independently monitored. UN obervers should be stationed on the border inside Gaza with the equipment to monitor underground tunnels and overhead rockets.

They should also be present at border crossings and on the sea to ensure the siege is lifted. Previous ceasefire agreements between Hamas and Israel included the lifting of the blockade. The agreements might have held had they been backed by UN verification.

The technology exists to detect tunnels at the border. The Managing Director of a UK company, which developed systems to find trapped miners, explained to me that their technology can reliably detect tunnels, in construction and in use.

Renewable technologies can help power a relief operation

While the details of an effective ceasefire are being negotiated a major international relief operation should be mounted in Gaza. According to a British public health expert this is imperative if a communicable disease explosion is to be avoided.

The population density is high in Gaza, many people have been displaced and there has been damage to sewage systems and the only electricity generator.

Much of the electricity for this operation could come from solar photovoltaic (PV) and small wind power systems. These could quickly provide the electrical power to keep hospitals and sewage infrastructure working, as well as helping reconstruction.

The long term prospects for the ceasefire will be enhanced if the lifting of the siege is effective. One of the most soul-destroying features of the blockade, according to my Gazan physicist colleague, has been the years of unreliable electricity supply, often only a few hours a day

Of course now, following Isreal's destruction of Gaza's only power station, and its water and sewage infrastructure, the situation has only worsened.

I have not received an email reply from my colleague since the start of this war. I hope that is simply that his computer battery cannot be recharged, but I fear worse.

The renewable solution

Existing renewable technologies could provide Gaza with an independent electricity supply. A recent article in The Ecologist explained that wind power and solar photovoltaic power are complementary so that the electricity demand of a country like Germany can be met with wind and PV power providing 78% of the supply in a year. Only 17% backup from biogas electricity is needed.

The mix of indigenous solar, wind and biogas from waste resources in Gaza will be different from Germany. However, the main difference favours the Gazans. The same rooftop PV system in Gaza City will generate 65% more electrical energy in a year than in Frankfurt.

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. Most countries would do well to follow the example of Germany.

Addressing the fundamental issue in the conflict between Israel and Palestine

One of the political decisions that tragically contributed to this cycle of violence was the refusal of so many governments, including our own, to recognise that Hamas had won the election after Israel ended their occupation of Gaza - and allow them to get on with the job they were elected to do.

Thus no diplomatic relations existed that could then be broken. When rockets were fired into Israel no peaceful sanctions were possible. Cooperative actions to eliminate dissidents' rocket launchers were not feasible.

However, the UN should be in a strong position to organise fresh elections in Gaza, the West Bank and the refugee communities. The UN presence as part of the relief effort and in refugee camps should ensure the elections are fair.

After what they have been through, all Palestinians deserve the chance to vote for the government of their choosing - and for their choice to be respected.

These elections could mandate representatives to negotiate an end to the long term causes of the conflict: the Palestinian wish for their own state and the need for a binding peace treaty with Israel.

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.

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.

Longer term advantages of renewable power

In my book, The Burning Answer: a User's Guide to the Solar Revolution I discuss how future solar technologies should be able to harvest the carbon dioxide and water vapour in the atmosphere, and use it to synthesize fuels.

These free resources will eventually be exploited to produce solar fuel and sustain solar powered greenhouses. The potential for such future developments, exploited under UN supervision, should help to progress negotiations.

Some of these technologies are still some years away. But the renewable technologies needed to ensure a ceasefire holds, expedite a relief operation and provide blockade-free electricity are all available immediately. 

Peace treaty negotiations over these most disputed lands would be facilitated if it is agreed that, irrespective of the country that has final ownership of the disputed land, the electricity, atmospheric water and, eventually, solar fuel generated in these regions must be used to benefit both Israelis and Palestinians.

Meanwhile we should demand an urgent deployment of renewable energy to Gaza as the foundation of rebuilding the devastated territory, restoring essential services to a population in desperate need, and building a peaceful and sustainable future for all who inhabit the region.



Keith Barnham is Emeritus Professor of Physics at Imperial College London, where he founded the Quantum Photovoltaic group. The group developed a third generation solar cell with three times the efficiency of current rooftop PV. He is author of The Burning Answer: a User's Guide to the Solar Revolution, published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 9780297869634.


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