Cheap, reliable and hard to hijack, the sun could be an ideal energy source in many war zones and disaster areas, prompting aid agencies to consider ditching costly fuel for solar power, Reuters reported.
While the technology has not advanced far enough to make a full swap viable, some solar projects are already underway in the field and aid workers expect many more to follow.
“It’s very easy to exploit the fuel chain and it happens in a number of big emergencies. It’s too easy to nick. There’s a lot of bad practice around making money out of fuel,” said Andy Bastable, head of Oxfam’s water and sanitation projects.
For engineer Talal Kanaan, rolling out nearly 500 solar panels to power hospitals in Syria last year was the logical way to keep the country’s health system running.
“We didn’t want to put solar for the sake of it because it’s ‘cool’ or environmentally friendly,” said Kanaan, founder of Syria Solar, part of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), a coalition of medical groups.
“The role of solar was to increase the resilience of the health system,” he said in a phone interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Syria’s electrical grid has taken a big hit after seven years of war with infrastructure destroyed, leaving hospitals relying on diesel generators and at the mercy of fuel shortages.
“The costs and the availability of fuel is volatile. That’s the problem: the source of it is coming from an area that is in conflict or across the firing line,” said Kanaan.
Solar system can fully power an intensive care unit, operating rooms and emergency departments for up to 24 hours without diesel, which is 20 to 30 percent of the hospital’s energy cost.
The group said it also saves about 7,000 liters of diesel per month and cuts about 200 tonnes of carbon each year.
Using grant money, Kanaan said he hopes to deploy electric ambulances next year, and remotely connect people in Syria with overseas doctors through online services like Skype, which would be powered by the existing solar energy system.