When darkness covered most of Yemen’s cities, including the capital Sana’a, for more than two and a half years ago, electricity had not reached yet Hassan’s family, who lives in a rural village of Dhamar province (100 km south of the capital). But in recent years, they finally got electricity through the solar energy that most Yemeni families, especially in the north, center, and west of the country, depend on now. It’s an experiment imposed by the tough circumstances, and is considered a positive phenomenon. But clean energy faces many problems and requires encouragement and regulation by the respective authorities.
In Athoura, located in a mountainous area called Wassab al-‘Ali where there are many villages, some of which did not benefit from government services yet, Hassan’s family is following what is happening in the world through a 14-inch television screen (150 watts) connected to a regulator and a battery (120 amp), from which small wires spread either to turn on the lights around the house or to charge the mobile phone. At sunset though, the television may be switched on for few hours only due to the deterioration of the battery that stores electricity, a problem faced by most solar users.
According to a study by the Present Research Center last year, 51% of Yemenis rely on renewable energy (mostly solar energy), from which some 34% use solar energy for lighting and household and electrical appliances, while 17% use it for lighting only.
The cost of a solar home system that provides the minimum needs of poor or low-income families, such as Hassan’s family, is approximately YR 100,000 (about $ 300) including the cost of wires, battery, regulator, and panel. But after a few months the battery’s efficiency begins to gradually deteriorate. As far as the households that need more energy and have the financial capacity to acquire it, the costs of the system capable of operating most of the devices could reach more than $2,000.
“The population in Yemen is distributed in many small, rural and scattered communities, which is a major obstacle to accessing electricity services in many areas,” explains Ibrahim Al-Yusufi, a solar energy engineer, to DW Arabic. Therefore, independent photovoltaic cells and energy storage batteries are the best option, according to Mr. Al-Yusufi, and have been an ideal solution that can be relied upon, fully or partially, depending on the financial capacity of the household.
Obstacles to optimal use of solar energy
However, the use of individual solar energy initiatives faces many obstacles, said the engineer, including the high cost of this system, and the fact that this field is still new. So, most of the people do not know how to maintain it and what are the conditions and criteria for its optimal use. Also, there are various brands of those systems on the market, and people do not know which one is the best in terms of quality.
On the other hand, Mr. Omar El-Hayani, an expert and media researcher in the field of energy, believes that the negative part in the experience of using solar energy is that “there is still a random and unthought use of the family’s need for energy, which is limited to lighting in most in addition to the operation of electronic devices such as television, computers, washing machines, while some of it is used for heating water.”
“It is a great experience in general and needs governmental support and organization to raise the efficiency of the solar use and to train the technical staff needed in the market,” he added.
There are other uses for solar energy in the fields of agriculture and clean water. Due to the high fuel prices of diesel and the difficulties of providing it because of the ongoing war, energy has also entered the rural water supply field, where it runs drinking water pumps from wells in many rural and remote areas.
Poverty and the “luxury” of electricity
With the outbreak of war in Yemen, the country plunged into a severe crisis and many services have collapsed. Government power plants have been shut down. The Yemeni capital and many of the country’s cities have sunk into total darkness. On the other hand, trade of solar home systems become popular in the market and solar panels have spread over rooftops in almost every city and village, including areas that have not already been connected to electricity.
Although government electricity has returned completely or partially to some areas of Yemen, especially those controlled by the internationally recognized government in the south, center, and east of the country, the rest of the region, including the capital Sana’a, has remained almost entirely dependent on solar energy to cover the basic needs of homes.
“Since the outbreak of the war in 2015 and the power outage, families in cities, particularly in Sana’a, have resorted to using solar energy, which represents the lifeline for getting energy,” says Omar Al-Hayani. “Since 2015, Yemen has witnessed a suffocating blockade of oil derivatives, the use of solar energy has been the only option,” he said. “This is a quantum leap in the use of renewable energy, despite the high cost on households.”
A popular market and new job opportunities
In the early months of the crisis that escalated in March 2015, there were only a few solar panels and batteries in the market, and were quickly consumed, so their prices rose dramatically before traders resorted to importing solar energy supplies. Then, new shops have spread in various cities, specialized in the sale and engineering of energy, thus providing new work opportunities for those who install and maintain solar systems at homes. “Solar energy has become an important economic resource for many, whether individuals or companies,” says Abdulrahman Eidros, a sales officer at a Sanaa-based company to DW Arabic.
“Consumers complain about the prices rise and the shabbiness of solar panels and batteries, which become less effective after the first six months of use. That is due to the misuse or lack of original products that were available three years ago. The market sank with shabby Chinese panels and batteries, which were very popular among consumers because of their low prices compared to other brands,” he added. “Citizens should always consult experienced people even when buying Chinese products,” he recommended, “because they are various types of Chinese products on the market.”
Safia Mahdi has been reporting for more than a year through the Al-Arabi website. Her stories are also carried by the “Here is Your Voice” radio station affiliated with Netherlands World Radio Station as well as Deutsche Welle Arabic. Safia graduated in 2014 with a BA in Journalism. Her interests include social, health and humanitarian issues.
Safia is one of the winner of the Voice of a Brighter Future journalism competition organised by the UN-OHRLLS. Voices of a Brighter Future called on journalists from least developed countries to submit inspiring stories on how sustainable energy positively impacts communities and individuals in their countries. You can find all their stories in this online publication.