Harnessing the Palestinian Sun — solar energy in a hot political climate

By Josh Newell

(Bethlehem, West Bank) — Two Palestinian brothers are attempting to harness the sun in the land where Jesus walked — a land that now sits in a hot political  ‘climate’.   Mohammad and Achmed Salem run Brother Engineering Group, a technology start up based in Bethlehem that seeks to bring clean, renewable energy to the West Bank.  Despite the challenges that come from working in what they see as a military occupation, the brothers are not giving up their hope to see their side of the Green Line become energy independent.

With the installation on the roof of the hotel nearing completion, the future for Brother Engineering Group remains uncertain.
Dr. Mohammed Salem, founder of Brothers Engineering Group, pharmacist, and social entrepreneur with Engineers without Borders, looks out over a solar panel installation project.
As well as the larger systems, the brothers also sell smaller systems that can be installed onto the roofs of family homes in the West Bank. Because Israel provides 95% of the power to the West Bank, with Jordan serving the rest, it can be cheaper for families to buy the solar panels from the Salem brothers.
Ahmed Salem working on one of the Salem Brothers largest projects – installing solar panels on top of the Bethlehem Hotel in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

“Here in [ The Palestinian] Authority, we don’t have anything. Our water, it’s not our water. They sell it to us. The electricity, they sell it to us. If we want to leave the country, the border is with them. They import everything,” said Dr. Mohammed Salem , founder of Brothers Engineering Group and pharmacists, businessman and social entrepreneur with Engineers without Borders.

The installation on the Bethlehem Hotel is the largest contract the brothers have ever undertaken. However, despite its size, they still continue to take smaller orders for installations on the roofs of Palestinians houses in the West Bank. Here Mohammed holds his head in his hands after arguing with a customer who wanted a rush order of a home solar panel unit that was to be delivered in a few hours, even though they didn't have the parts to complete the order.
Mohammed holds his head in his hands after arguing with a customer who wanted a rush order of a home solar panel unit that was to be delivered in a few hours, even though they didn’t have the parts to complete the order
 Friends and relatives help with the business. Here, extra help is needed because of the weight of the inverters. It can take three or more people to install them onto the wall.
Friends and relatives help with the business. Here, extra help is needed because of the weight of the inverters. It can take three or more people to install them onto the wall.
Achmed Salem, helps with the installation of the inverters that will transform the electricity from the solar panels on the roof of the hotel into electricity that the system can use.
Achmed Salem, helps with the installation of the inverters that will transform the electricity from the solar panels on the roof of the hotel into electricity that the system can use.
During solar installation on the Bethlehem Hotel, in downtown Bethlehem, the wires used to connect the panels to the hotel's electrical system wait to be installed.
During solar installation on the Bethlehem Hotel, in downtown Bethlehem, the wires used to connect the panels to the hotel’s electrical system wait to be installed.

Salem points out that Israel provides 95% of the power to the West Bank, with Jordan serving the rest. He is convinced that the solar panels that he and his brother offer can bring an energy savings to residents in the territories.

But brining solar solutions to the West Bank, they say, is not without its challenges.

As a Palestinian company, the brothers say they face an uphill battle trying to get their panels into the West Bank. Neither of the brothers can get the permits needed to go pick up the panels when they come from China. This means that in addition to higher import taxes in the West Bank, they must also add import fees for bringing product across the Green Line.

Marketing, they say, is also a challenge because of the current political climate.

“In Israel, we can’t make advertising. Google and Facebook, they won’t let us,” said Mohammed.

Nonetheless, the brothers forge ahead.

The temperature on the roof of the hotel can reach 80 plus degrees Fahrenheit on a cool day. Despite the heat, the work continued during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, meaning that the workers had to take frequent breaks to beat the heat. Here Achmed rests in the shade of the solar panels, which are mounted on large steel trusses that are anchored into the concrete roof.
The temperature on the roof of the hotel can reach 80 plus degrees Fahrenheit on a cool day. Despite the heat, the work continued during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, meaning that the workers had to take frequent breaks to beat the heat. Here Achmed rests in the shade of the solar panels, which are mounted on large steel trusses that are anchored into the concrete roof.

They spent months in the hot blistering sun in the summer of 2015 installing solar panels high atop the roof of the Bethlehem Hotel. It is the largest contract the brothers have ever undertaken. Despite its size, they still continue to take smaller orders for installations The brothers sell smaller systems that can be installed onto the roofs of family homes in the West Bank

With the installation on the roof of the hotel nearing completion, the future for Brother Engineering Group remains uncertain.

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