In pictures: Off-grid renewable energy provides a lifeline for Palestinian villages

In the dry, rugged terrain of South Mount Hebron in Palestine, electricity is a rare commodity, but Israeli-Palestinian NGO Comet-Me is helping people make their own renewable power

The Palestinians living in this part of the West Bank are mainly off-grid and either have no electricity at all, or use expensive diesel generators if they can afford to. Area C, which spans two-thirds of the West Bank and is under Israeli control, is home to 300,000 Palestinians. For villages in the mountains of South Hebron — often no more than a few households living in caves in the hillside — access to basic services is a daily struggle.

According to Israeli-Palestinian NGO Comet-ME, the Israeli authorities refuse to provide energy to Palestinians as part of a systematic campaign to push them off their lands, into Areas A and B. But amid these daily hardships and brutal conditions, new routes to make life easier here have been opening up. For these arid, windswept lands are perfectly suited to solar and wind energy.

Over the past few years, Comet-ME has worked with people in South Mount Hebron to set up small-scale renewable energy systems based on these technologies. These have improved lives and livelihoods by providing clean energy for refrigeration, cooking, making butter and cheese, and communications. So far Comet-ME has helped bring renewable energy to around 2,000 people in 24 villages in the southern West Bank.

Comet-ME also builds clean water systems for the communities — 70 percent of whom, the UN reports, are not connected to the water network and rely on expensive tankered water. In some villages, people use as little as 20 litres of water a day — just a fifth of the World Health Organisation’s recommended level.

These photos capture Comet-ME’s work and the people who benefit from it:



© Tomer Appelbaum

A technician wires up a wind turbine before installation in the South Hebron hills. The villages here are in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli control. Elad Orian, Comet-ME’s co-founder, says Israel does not provide Palestinians with basic services “as part of a political campaign to try and drive them off their land”.



© Tomer Appelbaum

The team often erect turbines at night to avoid confrontation with the Israeli authorities who have previously halted installations. The region, also known as South Mount Hebron, is ideally suited for wind energy: in the afternoon, as the sun goes down, the wind picks up.



© Tomer Appelbaum

An off-grid solar system in Sha’eb el Buttom, a village in the South Hebron hills. In the background is an illegal Israeli settlement that Israel has fully connected to the grid.



© Tomer Appelbaum

Solar panels in Sha’eb el Buttom. South Mount Hebron is particularly suited to renewable energy, says Comet-ME co-founder Elad Orian. It’s on the edge of a desert, so very sunny, and 800 metres above sea level, so extremely windy. In the winter there are powerful storms, with wind speeds exceeding 150 kilometres an hour.



© Tomer Appelbaum

A woman pours milk into a new butter churner, powered by renewable energy. Electric churners slash the time it takes women to make butter and cheese — one of the staple livelihoods here. Many of the villagers in the Mount Hebron hills live in caves such as this one in Tuba.



© Tomer Appelbaum

Hajeh Nuzha with a new butter churner in Sha’eb el Buttom village. The use of electric churners and refrigerators not only makes it easier to produce butter and cheese, but also leads to better products that sell for higher prices: family incomes have grown by as much as 70 per cent since the electric goods were introduced.



© Tomer Appelbaum

Women also use renewable energy to run laundry machines, such as this one in a home in Sha’eb el Buttom. Electricity has “revolutionised the lives of women”, Orian says, because they tend to do household tasks and take care of butter and cheese production.



© Tomer Appelbaum

This small building in Sha’eb el Buttom houses the electricity control room.



© Tomer Appelbaum

Inside the control room.



© Tomer Appelbaum

Many Palestinians in Mount Hebron rely on rainwater harvesting. Because this often fails to meet their needs, families have paid high prices for extra water brought in by tanker. To reduce this burden, Comet-ME supplies equipment to improve access to clean water. Here the team are installing meters to monitor water use for new water systems.



© Tomer Appelbaum

A pump and priming tank on top of a cistern in which rainwater is stored. Pipes carry water from the cistern to homes, where taps are installed. Before reaching the tanks, the water goes through particle filters to clean it. The new systems mean that children no longer have to carry heavy loads of water to their homes.


First published by SciDev