Thursday, March 02, 2006

Solar Energy Lights up a Negev Village

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.

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