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Solar energy lights up a Negev village

Posted By Patricia Golan On February 12, 2006 @ 12:00 pm In | No Comments

Residents of Drijat and representatives of Interdan and the Negev Development Authority are proud of their new solar electricity system.

There is no sign on the main highway to the Israeli town of Arad in the northern Negev telling you where the village of Drijat is. Only when you have driven down an off-road for four kilometers do you finally see the homemade sign.

But behind the anonymity of the village is an achievement that makes it unique. It recently became the first community in the country – and in the world – to be outfitted with a multipurpose solar electricity system for providing power to the entire village.

The project, initiated by The Ministry of National Infrastructure, The Negev Development Authority and MK Shimon Peres’ office for developing the Negev and Galilee, has lit up the streets and mosque of this tidy little village.

Situated at the foothills of the Hebron Hills, Drijat is the only Palestinian Arab village in the Negev. The residents traditionally are agricultural laborers as opposed to Bedouin nomads. The 850 residents of Drijat all belong to the same clan – Abu Hamad. The village was established 150 years ago by the Abu Hamad family from Mount Hebron, who lived in caves they carved in the center of the village.

After the establishment of the State of Israel they built permanent stone houses.

Until recently Drijat, like many other Arab communities in the Negev, was not recognized by the government. This meant it was not connected to the water, power or other services. After fighting the bureaucracy for decades, two years ago the villagers finally won formal recognition from the state. And now the government is trying to make up for lost time in providing fundamental services to the residents of Drijat.

To accomplish this, they hired Interdan, a private Israeli natural-electricity company, to carry out the actual installation and management of the project. The energy is collected by eight solar photovoltaic panels fitted on the roof-tops, then stored in a DC battery system which converts it to AC. It provides a stable current of the same quality as the electric company provides (or would provide were it hooked up to the village!) according to Interdan, the batteries will supply electricity at night and on cloudy days – for four days without direct sunlight, a rare occurrence in the Negev desert.

“What is unique is that we are trying to convert the entire village to a modern solar village, not just installing individual systems to run telephones, like they do in Africa,” Gil Nezer, Interdan’s marketing director, told ISRAEL21c.

What this system can’t support are air conditioners and heaters which would quickly consume all the stored up energy. Generators are still used at night.

“The hope is to reduce the use of generators once the whole village is connected to solar panels,” says Nezer. “The main thing is that we can use electricity during the day.”

That fact has already stared changing the lives of the residents. Housewife Tagrid Abu Hamad shows us around her spacious home which has been outfitted with one of the solar systems. “Now the kids have something to do during the day – they can watch TV or use the computer. I don’t have to worry about them,” she told ISRAEL21c. “We used to light candles, and this is dangerous.”

Tagrid’s neighbor, Nasser Abu Hamad, agrees. “This is particularly important for the children. Instead of roaming around outside, and the parents not knowing where they are, they can watch TV or use the computer. And it helps them study.”

Now with the installation of solar electricity systems, after relying on noisy, unstable and polluting private generators for years, the residents will be able to use household appliances powered by natural “green” electricity, even at night or on cloudy days.

So far, the system – manufactured by the Canadian company Xantrex – has been installed in 20 of the 100 households, the science and computer rooms of the local school, the mosque and the streetlights in the village.

The village is also now illuminated with street lights powered by solar panels atop poles fixed along the streets. Abu Hamad says that in the past it was uncomfortable coming home late at night. “Everything was shut down and dark. now the village is lit up and you can see everything. There’s a feeling of more security.”

Also visible at night for the first time is the village mosque – its green dome dramatically lit up. Abu Hamad is convinced this is the first mosque in the world that is powered by solar panels.

The long process by which the Drijat families decided who would get the initial units had its own social dynamics. The key was how many family members were living in a house, but those with seriously ill family members were pushed to the top of the list.

The requirements for solar energy – sun, wind and high levels of radiation – are readily available in the region, but have been left largely untapped for energy production.

Interdan’s Nezer says the company hopes Drijat will serve as a model for spreading solar electricity throughout Israel.


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