The world is moving more towards relying on alternative energy sources such as wind and solar every day. In Yemen, the ongoing war for about eight years has made it difficult to obtain fuel, but on the other hand, it has increased Yemenis’ reliance on alternative energy, especially solar energy. The use of solar energy in Yemen began when government electricity was frequently disrupted during protests against the rule of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011 and thereafter.
At the start of the current conflict, in early 2015, government electricity was completely cut off. As a result, most citizens turned to private generators. However, the high costs and frequent fuel shortages led them to resort to solar energy as a necessary alternative for lighting their homes. By the end of 2015, the production size reached 400 megawatts, and it increased to 500 megawatts in 2017, with a utilization rate of 75% in urban areas and 50% in rural areas, according to a research paper by the Development and Energy Program published in 2019.
The use of solar energy by Yemeni households has created a local market and a growing demand. According to the estimates in the research paper, Yemeni households spent between one and two billion US dollars on purchasing solar energy systems between 2014 and 2016.
Solar Energy as an Alternative in Challenging Conditions
The collapse of electricity in Yemen and the absence of service due to the disruptions of war have prompted people to search for another alternative, and they found that in solar energy, which their country enjoys throughout the year, to the extent that it has reached areas that have never known electricity before.
Yemeni activist Mohammed Al-Athwari says that most Yemenis use solar energy, but it is not a primary alternative and cannot provide what government electricity provides. There are changes in the climate, and there are days when the sun does not appear well, and rainy days that prevent the charging of solar energy batteries. Therefore, there is no alternative to electricity.
The cost of a home solar energy system, which provides the minimum requirement for poor or low-income families, is approximately 100,000 Yemeni rials (about 300 US dollars), including the value of panels, battery, regulator, and wires. However, after a few months, the battery’s efficiency starts to deteriorate gradually. As for families that need more energy and have the financial capability, as well as institutions, the costs of a system capable of powering most devices may exceed two thousand dollars.
Yemeni citizen Walid Al-Sharabi says that solar energy in Yemen is not an alternative to electricity. Generating electricity with solar energy requires significant government efforts to cover larger areas as an alternative to electricity. There are countries that have established cities operating on solar energy, but currently in Yemen, solar energy is used as an alternative in the worst conditions.
According to a study conducted by the “Present” institution for public opinion research last year, 51% of Yemenis rely on renewable energy (mostly solar), and about 34% of those who use solar energy use it for lighting and operating household and electrical appliances, while 17% use it for lighting only.
War and Outages Cause Total Electricity Loss
Yemeni citizen Mustafa Mahyoub says that previously, citizens relied on government electricity before 2011. There were frequent power outages, and when the war started, most power generation stations were destroyed, leading to a complete end of electricity. Therefore, citizens tried to turn to alternative energy and relied heavily on solar energy.
With the outbreak of war in Yemen, the country entered into a severe crisis and many services collapsed, as government power stations stopped working and the Yemeni capital and many cities in the country were immersed in darkness. On the other hand, the trade of household solar energy systems flourished in the markets, and solar panels spread across the rooftops of almost every city and village, including areas that had not previously been connected to electricity.
Although government-provided electricity has partially or fully returned to some areas of Yemen, especially those controlled by the internationally recognized government in the south, center, and east of the country, the remaining areas, including the capital Sanaa, continue to rely almost entirely on solar energy to meet basic household needs.