Palestine’s energy security

Kamil Ahmed
Wednesday, Apr 10, 2024

Last year, in October, Gaza’s only power plant had to shut down after it ran out of fuel two days after the government of Israel ordered a complete blockade of the Gaza Strip, which houses 2.3 million people.

The Gaza Power Plant is a diesel-fired electricity generation facility with a capacity of 140MW. Still, it mostly operates at a partial capacity of 80MW due to the high cost of generation from diesel and the shortage of fuel. Diesel-fired power plants are considered very expensive, especially for an already vulnerable population, and are deployed to meet peak load (instead of base load).

The shutdown pushed almost the entire population in the Gaza Strip into darkness, which further exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. Although people in the Palestinian enclave had generators of their own, as the siege continued, they ran out of fuel. In most cases, electricity from the grid is the cheapest, so without it, the population is left with no other option than to generate their own electricity to meet urgent requirements, which places an additional financial burden.

In the past, electricity demand in the Gaza Strip was met through the Gaza Power Plant, followed by generation facilities in Egypt and Israel supplying power through transmission lines.

Transmission lines from Egypt have a power handling capacity of 28MW but have not been operational since 2017. Even when these lines were operational, they were underutilized. The electricity supply requirement of the Gaza Strip is around 500MW, and, currently, there is a deficit of 235MW as per the data submitted to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs by the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO).

The deficit in generation capacity has been slightly reduced over the years, but it was mostly the Gaza Power Plant ramping up generation as no new generation capacity was installed. As far as the availability of electricity is concerned, from 2017 onwards till 2022, electricity was available on average for around 11 hours daily.

Electricity demand in the West Bank is estimated to be around 1,300 MW, whereas the supply stood at around 1,110 MW in 2023. The majority of the power supply in the West Bank is provided through Israel, accounting for 940MW, while the rest is through Jordan (80MW) and local renewable energy sources (90MW).

The market structure of Palestine’s electricity market is such that the Palestinian Electricity Transmission Company (PETL), which was formed in 2013, serves as the sole buyer of electricity in the Palestinian Authority’s territory. The PETL purchases electricity from the Palestine Power Generation Company (PPGC) and neighbouring countries, including Israel and Jordan. The single buyer, also a transmission company, then transmits electricity to distribution companies operating within the PA territory.

As mentioned earlier, diesel-fired power plants are very expensive, especially when compared with the cost of generation from natural gas (approx. one-third of the current retail price). Technologically, it is possible to convert a diesel-fired power plant to a natural gas-fired power plant, but there are a few major bottlenecks.

Investments are required for the conversion of power plants and exploration of natural gas, which, under the present security situation in the Gaza Strip and the region overall, is unlikely to come unless guarantees are provided (international development banks and international players). Even if the investments come through, the PA will have to rely on natural gas supplies from neighbouring countries for the time being, as hydrocarbon exploration and extraction have high lead times.

The Palestinian Authority has been trying to develop the gas field 36 kilometres off the coast of Gaza since the time of Yasir Arafat, who granted an exploration licence to British Gas. For the project to be financially viable, it needs to have a market of around two billion cubic metres, but the demand in Gaza and the West Bank is much less than that, which means there is not just potential but a need for export as well (there are several LNG liquefaction terminals in the region through which gas can be exported).

Israel is trying to develop the eastern Mediterranean gas market (preferably without sharing the revenues with Palestine and Lebanon) that will cater to the energy requirements of European countries through pipelines and LNG export terminals. It is one of the main reasons why the apartheid state is being allowed by Western economies to carry out genocide in Gaza.

The indiscriminate bombing of Gaza has further wrecked the electric power infrastructure in Gaza, including the solar installations. Before the war, as per one estimate, Gaza had around 12,400 solar installations. However, once the ceasefire is implemented, securing the energy supply will be critical for rebuilding and economic growth in Palestine.

The only way Palestine can achieve energy security is through the deployment of renewable generation at scale and the development of gas fields. Muslim-majority countries are responsible for ensuring that Palestinians are not exploited in the gas exploration and development deals (as was likely to happen during Arafat’s time).

Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, which means it doesn’t have enough land for mega PV solar projects. However, there is potential for such projects in the Gaza buffer zone and the West Bank, where land availability for PV solar projects is better. But to scale renewable energy developments, investments are required in the distribution and transmission sectors.

The writer is an energy sector

professional. He tweets/posts

@beingkamil and can be reached at: