According to the NGO, Comet-ME, the arid, windswept south Hebron hills region of the West Bank has been home to dozens of small Palestinian family groups and villages for centuries. Located in Area C of the occupied Palestinian territories, all live under the threat of demolitions and forced displacement, with no electricity or water, and no infrastructure allowed.
The communities live in caves and tents and rely on traditional non-mechanised agriculture and herding to produce butter and dairy products for sale and family consumption. Most of the families have either no access to electricity or rely on expensive diesel generators, which they can only run occasionally.
In 2009, Comet-ME co-founders, two Israeli physicists and anti-occupation activists, Elad Orian and Noam Dotan, approached the communities to look for ways they could help. They identified water and electricity as the people’s most pressing needs.
The hills are subject to strong winds and burning sunlight, so Comet-ME began working with the villagers to design and set up small-scale hybrid wind and solar mini-grids. In 2013, Comet-ME helped develop a controller that operates water pumps using surplus energy from the mini-grids to bring water from rain-storage cisterns to the families. So far, 20 communities with a total of almost 2000 residents have benefitted from the project.
Currently, the systems provide an average of 2.5 kW h per family per day, providing electricity 24/7, 365 days a year. This is enough clean energy to run lights, recharge phones and watch TV, extending the family’s day well beyond sundown. This means that children can do homework, and adults can catch up on news and stay in touch with the rest of the world. The systems also power basic appliances such as refrigerators and butter churns, enabling the community to increase their production and sales of dairy products.
This small amount of electricity and water particularly transforms the lives of the women, who used to spend hours a day hand-producing the butter and cheese, doing laundry by hand, and transporting water in buckets. Now they are free to do other tasks.
Comet-ME works in partnership with the communities to build and maintain the systems, uses locally sourced materials whenever possible, and employs and trains Palestinian engineers, project managers and technicians who in turn train local community members in diagnostics and maintenance, with a view to developing a local renewable energy knowledge base as a source of future development.
Details of the technology used in Comet-ME’s systems are shared in the public domain, in partnership with organisations such as Engineers Without Borders, Wind Empowerment Association, the UN Sustainable Energy for All Practitioner Network and the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology.
"Comet-ME is part of a uniquely short loop of technology development and implementation," according to Comet-ME’s 2014 annual report. "Lessons learned in the south Hebron hills can serve communities in Africa; developments made in student labs in the US can find their way to the field within weeks."