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Libya Is Off the Grid But There’s a Solar Solution

Power cuts in winter add to Libyans’ woes
Image: UNDP Libya

Libya has been experiencing one of its worst blackouts, with protesters burning tires and shutting down telecommunications towers frustrated with the sustained power cuts.

The oil rich country has three rival factions that are engaged in an intense political deadlock— the United Nations backed Government of National Accord, the Tobruk parliament in east Libya, and the Government of National Salvation in Tripoli.


Libyans, in the west where the capital Tripoli is and the south, have been off the grid for weeks with sporadic hours of electricity.

It's a cold day in Tripoli today, No power for 16 hours in the city center, no water.
No words too to express this misery.

Hala BugaighisJanuary 11, 2017

Yet, two hospitals in Tripoli are surviving on solar energy. The newly installed panels, part of a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project, have come at a time when Libyan patients sorely need access to medical services.

"Our primary objective is life-saving. Introducing clean and environment friendly technology to keep hospitals up and running with no interruptions," Noura Hamladji, UNDP Libya director, told Motherboard via email. "This off grid solution is working 24 hours a day."

In Abusleem hospital, one of the piloted hospitals in Tripoli, most of the power has been harnessed towards heating the wards.

"The capacity for each hospital is between 12-16 kilowatts and the system is modular which means it can be upgraded to tens of times of its capacity" Hamladji added.

The nascent project, a first for Libya after Muammar Qaddafi's removal in 2011, aims to expand to nine hospitals in Tripoli, Benghazi, and Sebha reaching about 50,000 Libyans in desperate need of adequate healthcare.

Libya, with some of the highest crude oil reserves globally, could potentially produce five times more power from solar energy than oil, according to Amin Al Habaibeh of Nottingham Trent University.


"If Libya utilises just a fraction of its land area to harness solar power, it could produce the equivalent to almost seven million barrels of crude oil per day in energy," he told Motherboard in an email.

Around 750,000 barrels of oil are pumped on a daily basis but the demand for electricity continues to soar and the political instability has not helped.

The Islamic State (IS) was recently driven out of Sirte yet that has not quelled the many factions quarrelling over the country's rich resources.

What Libyans dream of now! Not becoming a new Dubai or anything else. Just fuel for heating (Maslow' hierarchy of needs!) Thanks militias! zaptiaJanuary 11, 2017

Just last week Khalifa Ghwell, a self-declared prime minister, backed by armed militias tried to take over some buildings of the internationally recognised government in Tripoli while its leader Fayez Serraj was in Cairo.

"Many of Libya's power plants and networks have sustained damage as a result of armed conflict over recent years" explained Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya analyst who teaches at Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin in France.

Armed militias regularly pressure distributors to divert power supplies to their own neighbourhoods leaving others without electricity.

"Official buildings and armed groups do possess power generators, meanwhile ordinary Tripoli households tend to suffer silently", he added.

Power cuts are a common occurrence in the Middle East mainly due to the authorities' mismanagement. This week thousands of Palestinians in Gaza took to the streets fed up with living their days in darkness with power cuts lasting up to twenty hours a day.

With reports that crippling blackouts throughout Libya affecting water supplies that rely on electric power for distribution, the solar panels may prove to be a much needed lifeline.

"We targeted hospitals for their life-saving role in Libya" Hamladji said.