David Lehrer

Gaza border solar fields: A basis for security and hope

The solution to Gaza's dire lack of electricity and water can and should be built in a restricted area just inside the border
A Palestinian woman pours water on a child outside her tent, during a hot summer day in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 31, 2023. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
A Palestinian woman pours water on a child outside her tent, during a hot summer day in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 31, 2023. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Cooperation between Israel and Gaza on renewable energy could alleviate the electricity shortage and severe water crisis in the Gaza Strip. For Israel, such cooperation could be of additional value politically and in terms of security.

In June, Israel announced its agreement to the development of a gas reservoir for the Palestinians, located about 30 km off the coast of Gaza. So far, the project has been stalled due to political conditions, and its implementation is expected to yield a quantity of gas that will suffice not only for the residents of the Gaza Strip but also for potential export.

Simultaneously, a proposal to build a 161-kilovolt (kV) power line to increase the electricity capacity transmission from Israel to Gaza has been discussed for several years. The proposal, initially introduced in 1999, is currently awaiting construction permits. Both moves offer a new horizon for energy improvement in Gaza, yet it is expected to be quite some time before tangible results are achieved for the Gaza’s residents.

In a recent joint publication by Damour for Community Development and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, Eng. Rebhy Al-Sheikh, former Deputy Head of the Palestinian Water Authority, presents a quicker solution through renewable energy that could alleviate the immediate energy shortage and address the water crisis in Gaza. According to Al-Sheikh, the Gaza Strip currently receives an average of 200 MWs of electricity at best, while the average demand is slightly over 500 MWs and is expected to rise to 700 MWs very soon, due to population growth. Consequently, Gazans endure long periods without electricity, ranging from 8 to 16 hours per day.

The lack of energy also directly impacts the water crisis in Gaza. Without adequate energy to power water pumps and wastewater treatment plants, basic needs like drinking, cooking, and hygiene, as well as the treatment of wastewater flowing to the aquifer and the Mediterranean Sea are affected. Pollution from excessive pumping and contamination of coastal aquifer effluents, the sole water source shared between Gaza and Israel, has, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), rendered 96.2% of the domestic water unfit for consumption.

To put things in perspective, the WHO recommends a minimum water consumption of 100 liters per day per person for all needs, while the Israeli average is 200 liters per day. The average daily water consumption in Gaza, per person, is 88 liters. The Damour Arava Institute report highlights the importance of increasing the energy supply to water and sanitation facilities to implement a strategic plan for improved access to safe drinking water, wastewater treatment and reuse, desalination facilities, recycling programs, and treated wastewater use, as well as pumping and augmentation stations.

According to Al-Sheikh, the capacity of wastewater treatment facilities should grow to about 130 MVs, nearly 20% of the expected electricity demand. Even when the 161-kV line and the gas project come into effect, their combined output won’t be sufficient to support the growing demand. This is particularly true for agriculture-related recycled wastewater projects.

Solution from the sun

The restricted access area within Gaza, along the eastern border between Israel and Gaza and the adjacent Israeli territory, offer an opportunity for renewable energy sources. Solar fields could not only benefit Israel’s efforts to fulfill its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also ease part of Gaza’s energy shortage while creating more stability through cross-border cooperation.

In Gaza, the potential for solar energy is high throughout the year, with an average solar radiation of 5.46 kWh/m² per day. The average solar radiation varies with the season, ranging from as low as 2.63 kWh/m² per day in December to a peak of 8.4 kWh/m² per day in June.

Gazans have already adopted the use of solar water heaters on rooftops and solar panel systems, saving hundreds of gigawatt-hours of electricity. The main challenge lies in the limited land available for constructing solar fields. The fact that a strip of land, about 300 meters wide along the Palestinian side of the border, cannot be utilized due to security restrictions presents a unique opportunity for economic green cooperation.

Building solar fields along the border to provide electricity to residents of Gaza could alleviate their suffering, reduce the strain on Israel’s energy supply, and solve the wastewater treatment crisis that contaminates both Israel and Palestine’s coasts and shared aquifer.

Another advantage is the potential for stability along the Gaza-Israel border. If a significant portion of Gaza’s energy comes from solar fields along the border, it is likely that Hamas would be cautious about targeting them. Solar fields have a deterrent factor against attack, as they hold value for both sides: for Gazans, in terms of energy and water security, and for Israelis, in terms of military security.

Al-Sheikh argues that several sites east of Gaza and close to the green line could easily provide separate connections to different zones in Gaza’s electricity network. For example, a solar field to generate up to 75 MWs at peak would require around 600 dunams (60 hectares). Even if solar fields were built only on the Gaza side of the border, with 200 meters from the border designated for security purposes, 10,000 dunams of potential sites for solar fields would be available.

If both sides of the border become available through private sector cooperation, a potential new supply of energy for Gaza could also become a potential new supply of a more precious resource than water or energy – hope for both sides.

About the Author
Dr. Lehrer holds a PhD from the Geography and Environmental Development Department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a joint Masters Degree in Management Science from Boston University and Ben-Gurion University. Dr. Lehrer was the Executive Director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies from 2001 until August 2021 and has now become Director of the Center for Applied Environmental Diplomacy. Dr. Lehrer has been a member of Kibbutz Ketura since 1981.
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