In the middle of a field of tomatoes and pumpkins stand imposing photovoltaic panels installed by Khaled Moustafa and his fellow farmers in northwestern Syria. In Idleb, the war came to boost solar energy.
Silicone boards can be seen everywhere in this province: on rooftop terraces in big cities, and even near makeshift tents in informal IDP camps.
Synonymous with clean energy, it is first and foremost an efficient and relatively inexpensive way to get electricity in the countryside, in homes, and even in hospitals.
“We used diesel generators, but it was a nightmare with shortages and rising prices: we opted for solar energy,” Khaled Moustafa, a farmer from the village of Killi, told AFP.
Behind it, in the middle of the field, photovoltaic panels are mounted on rotating metal structures that can follow the path of the sun.
For about $ 4,000 (3,370 euros), his cooperative of nearly 20 farmers invested in 200 boards in 2019, he says.
Electricity drives irrigation pumps and provides water for at least three hectares of the cooperative. According to him, it also allows pumping water from a well sold in the village.
“Even if the electricity grid is renewed, solar energy will remain cheaper,” Moustafa said.
– “Feasible alternative” –
As elsewhere in Syria, the war that began in 2011 did not spare the power grid in Idleb, a province dominated by jihadists and rebels.
Residents relied on expensive generators from the neighborhood, when they don’t have their own generator at home. But due to shortages, fuel is becoming more expensive.
Across Syria, “since the armed conflicts have calmed down and much of the country has become more stable, solar energy production has increased,” the United Nations Development Office (UNDP) for Syria confirms.
This energy source “represents a sustainable alternative in the Syrian context,” the agency explains, noting “excellent solar radiation,” at a time when “much of the electricity grid has been destroyed in urban and rural areas.”
Incentive in a country where “at least 90% of Syrians do not have access to a stable and uninterrupted electricity supply,” according to an estimate by UNDP.
And in regime areas, individuals and even public institutions like universities use solar panels. The private sector has also launched several projects in this area.
In the Al-Dana district of Idleb, photovoltaic panels are lined up on the roofs as far as the eye can see.
“Sales increased by 300% between 2018 and 2021,” confides AFP Abdelhakim Abdelrahmane in its store where it sells photovoltaic panels imported from Turkey, Germany or China.
He attributes this increase to agricultural projects that require at least “100 panels, sometimes even 500”.
– refrigerator and fan –
In her small apartment with bare concrete walls, Zakariya Sinno turns on a ceiling fan and activates a sound system that illustrates the capacity of three panels.
“Each household bought two or three panels, enough to cover domestic consumption for a refrigerator, washing machine, lighting,” he explains in his forties.
A survey conducted by a group of researchers among 120 households in the regions of northern Syria (Idleb and Aza) showed that 8% of them use solar energy as their main source of electricity.
A third of them use panels in addition to other energy sources, especially for lighting, TV control, charging laptops, according to this study published in 2020 by the academic journal Education and Conflict of the British University.
Hospitals also use this technology, in addition to generators.
Since 2017, the Syria Solar initiative, launched by the non-governmental organization UOSSM (Union of Organizations for Aid and Medical Services), has enabled the installation of 480 solar panels in the first hospital, and then 300 others in the second. He provided technical assistance to about 40 health centers that followed the same path.
“You can use solar energy to cover 30 to 40% of the hospital’s energy consumption,” Syrian founder Solar Talal Kanaan told AFP.
In the event of a fuel shortage, he said, the system could be sufficient to supply “sensitive wards in the hospital, namely intensive care, operating theaters and emergency departments.”