TEDxRamallah - Khaled Al Sabawi - Keeping Palestine Cool: A Different Kind of Underground Movement

Uploaded by TEDxTalks on 22.05.2011

What is the purpose of your visit to Israel?
This is the question that is asked by Israeli security
to anyone who travels to the Palestinian territories.
Of course this question is accompanied by a list of other indispensable questions such as:
Are you carrying any weapon?
You are going to Ramallah?
And of course:
What is the name of your father?
And your grandfather?
And your great grandfatherís motherís father?!
All these questions, except for the last one maybe, usually have very simple answers
That is of course, unless you are me
Oh, donít get me wrong, Iíve never carried any weapons
And my father and my grandfather have your standard scary Arabic names
Unfortunately for me, the answer to the first question
What is the purpose of your visit to Israel, is one word:
Such an answer always brings the immediate following question of..
What ???
After which I repeat: Geothermal
And after a few enlightening repetitions finally comes:
What is geothermal?
At which point I pause, take a deep breath and say..
Well, the earth absorbs 50% of the sunís energy which is a clean renewable energy ....
After my brief explanation the Israeli confused official then asks:
Really?! You will do this in Israel?!
My response: Sure, if you let me in!
This of course happens every single time I try to enter the Palestinian territories.
The first time I experience the pleasure of an Israeli interrogation was in 2007
when I arrived in my simple quest to bring green energy to Palestine.
I am the son of Palestinian refugees, who were fortunate enough to immigrate to Canada
and I was raised to the imperative that if we Palestinians who were lucky enough to grow up in the worldís most progressive societies
and receive education in amongst the best institutions in the world
If we donít come back to Palestine to help out, who will ?!
Thus, upon graduating from university, I traveled to the Palestinian territories
and I immediately recognized the reality, that was very concerning.
Currently, Palestine has one of the worldís highest population densities
higher than any other country of similar geographic size
and significantly higher than most countries around the world.
In 2020, Palestine population density will increase dramatically due to Palestineís very high population growth rate.
In 2050, it is expected to surpass Bangladesh!
To make matters worse, the Palestinian people pay amongst the highest energy prices in the entire Middle East and North Africa.
Energy in Palestine has become unaffordable for Palestinians
This is a situation that is not sustainable!
The high population growth rate in Palestine will require hundreds of thousands of new homes to be built
More homes, more buildings mean more energy will be demanded
as buildings account for the majority of the energy that is consumed in Palestine
Buildings consume lots of energy for lighting, for appliances
but mainly for heating and for cooling.
Considering that Palestine imports 97% of its energy
and is highly dependent on Israel for supply
we have no choice but to think outside of the box
and look towards alternative forms of energy to meet the demands of the Palestinians
while at the same time building more efficiently and sustainably
So, where shall we look?
How about ... down!
For who would have thought, that simply two meters below our very feet
there lays a clean renewable energy, known as Geothermal Energy
that can provide a source of heating and cooling for any type of building.
Actually, someone already thought about it. A distant relative way back in the day
and his name was: the Cave Man!
And the Cave Woman, of course!
Living comfortably in a worm cave away from the outside freezing winters.
Why is the cave worm while the outside air is very cold?
Well, as most Israeli border security officials now know
because the earth absorbs 50% of the sunís energy as clean renewable energy
the temperature is simply two meters and below remains constant throughout the entire year.
So how do we access this energy?
Very simple, the same way that energy in the form of heat moves around us and transfers around us every second.
Humans generate heat and energy.
Men, of course have to generate more energy than women to do the same amount of work
itís because theyíre complaining while they do it!
A glass of water has heat energy.
If we are to look at a glass of water at ñsay 20 degrees Celsius,
and we are to lower the temperature from 20 to 15 degrees while keeping the amount of water the same
what are we removing from the water?
You got it ... Energy!
The same concept applies to a geothermal system
In Ramallah, we discovered that the ground temperature is a constant 17 degrees Celsius throughout the entire year.
In the winter, the 17 degrees constant ground temperature is now wormer than the 4 degrees cold outside air
thus by pumping water into a system of pipe installed deep in the earth
we can absorb the heat from the wormer ground, channel it to an electrically powered heat pump
which then compresses the heat, outputs it to the building at 45 degrees Celsius to provide full heating.
In the summer, the same exact system is simply reversed
The 17 degrees constant ground temperature is now cooler than the 36 degrees hot outside air
thus we absorb the buildingís heat returning chilled water to the building and we channel the buildingís heat to the cooler earth.
According to the United States Environment Protection Agency,
Geothermal systems are ñand I quote: the most energy efficient, environmentally clean and cost effective space conditioning systems available today.
Installing a geothermal system in an average size home is equivalent to planting an acre of trees.
It is also equivalent to removing two cars off the road in its environmental impact.
Geothermal systems presented enormous potential.
We faced a daunting challenge of creating an affordable, real life and replicable geothermal system
the first of its kind in the entire Middle East and North Africa ñincluding Israel-
while at the same time keeping in mind that no matter how attractive a green technology is
if itís not affordable, nobody will use it.
Thus, we constantly worked on ways to reduce the cost of a geothermal system and make it more affordable to Palestinians.
Such persistence led us to the discovery of using limestone powder, a free product of a limestone cutting industry in Palestine
as a grout to fill our geothermal boreholes.
This improved the efficiency and reduced the cost of geothermal systems by 15%
a discovery that we recently panted.
{ Another invention? You are such a geek! }
We have installed three geothermal systems in Ramallah, in a house, an apartment and in an office building
and each geothermal system has been functioning for two years successfully, and has reduced the energy consumption by 70%.
It has eliminated the Carbon-dioxide emissions that would have been produced by the standard fuel burning systems widely used in Palestine.
Now, our job wasnít finished there
we are also required to bare the burden to educate our community
in addition to educating Israeli border security
on being energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
We were literally creating a new green energy market from scratch in one of the poorest places in the region.
We were diligently to convince our public to look at the extra capital required to install a geothermal system as an investment rather than simply an extra cost.
In the United States and Canada, it usually takes between 9-12 years to payback the initial investment in a geothermal system
because we lowered costs dramatically, and because of the high energy prices in Palestine, our payback periods are between 4-6 years.
It was a significant challenge to do this in Palestine, and lowering costs was paramount
because if energy, or any new technology is not affordable, nobody will even think about using it.
We were driven by a belief that developing countries are in fact in a unique position to cope with renewable energy in their constructions, and actually build right.
And our vision for building right was finally realized on a massive scale
we were awarded the contract to install a 1.6 megawatt geothermal system at the University of Madaba in Jordan
The largest geothermal system in the region!
Once the Madaba system is complete, our geothermal systems will save a combined:
300,000 kilowatt hours of electricity
140,000 liters of diesel fuel
and 310,000 kilograms of carbon-dioxide emissions every single year!
This is the impact of a small Palestinian green energy business.
We are trying to keep Palestine ìcoolî from the ground up!
I guess it must have worked since a representative from the Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructure sent us an email saying ñquote:
Iím impressed, looks like we have a lot to learn from you
Actually, the Palestinian TV was also very excited
as they referred to me as- quote: The inventor of Geothermal!
which is not true of course, but I appreciate the thought!
Although in the end our hard work did pay off, we faced many challenging obstacles along the way
starting with -of course- the Israeli occupation.
In 2009, I became a victim of Israelís campaign of entry denials and visa restrictions
directed towards foreign nationals working in Palestine.
For one straight year, I became the target of a systematic, deliberate and discriminatory effort designed to prevent me from entering or working in the Palestinian territories.
I was denied entry by Israel three times in the span of seven months.
Was the Palestinian green energy business a threat to the Israeli security?
Well, I am originally from Gaza
and we were drilling holes, I guess you can count them as tunnels!
Maybe Israeli border security was just fed up with my geothermal speech
or maybe- just maybe - itís simply Israelís military occupation- now entering its 44th year.
As it was the Israeli occupation army that randomly detained one of my young hardworking engineers,
we had just finished training him as a certified geothermal designer by bringing an expert to train him from Canada.
What was his reward?
He was detained, thrown in solitary confinement in a holding cell in a size of a box for two months under no charges!
There were also the challenges of operating a business in the developing world.
I had and I still have to this very day, an extremely difficult time hiring educated professionals in Palestine.
Oh donít get me wrong, itís not because there arenít any
on the contrary, Palestinians are amongst the most educated people in the Middle East.
Itís a result of the massive amounts of foreign aid that is injected to the Palestinian economy,
now totaling 30% of Palestinian GDP.
International aid allows Non Governmental Organizations (NGOís) the ability of offer inflated salaries
far detached from the local economy to lour educated Palestinians
salaries 3-4 times higher than what the local private sector can afford!
This causes labor costs to increase, while decreasing labor supply, and undermining the private sectorís ability to recruit educated Palestinians
and thus, our capacity to build an independent Palestinian economy.
And the obstacles didnít stop there. There was now the neighboring government of Jordan
with their wonderful technicolor web of - bureaucracy!
Before we could start working on the University of Madaba geothermal system, the Jordanian government forced us to receive approvals from:
the Ministry of Public Works
.. and the Ministry of Industry and Trade
.. and the Ministry of Interior
.. and the Jordanian Intelligence Agency
.. and the Prime Ministerís Office
.. and the Ministry of Water, the Ministry of energy and Ministry of Environment
.. and the Jordanians Contractorís Union
.. and the Jordanian Engineering Association.
I was actually thankful that they didnít force us to get approval from ..
the Jordanian Manly Moustache Association!
Our small green energy business was forced to pay salaries and overheads, and keep its employees and equipment on standby for five months while awaiting approvals.
Although, we as a people face many challenging obstacles living under occupation
building sustainably is not one of them.
In spite of the obstacles we face as a business, we continue to install geothermal systems
and we continue to work towards creating a more sustainable economy for Palestine.
We are working towards our own solution for Palestine,
not the two state solution ..
nor the one state solution ..
but the green state solution.
{ Save Palestine. Itís the only Non-state with Two Governments :( }
Save Palestine, please!
So, what is the purpose to my visit to Israel?
First of all, itís to Palestine
Second of all, itís to prove that the power of an idea combined with creative entrepreneurship, and a huge amount of Palestinian stubbornness
is far greater than any obstacle that lies in its way.
It is also to prove, that if we can build sustainably here in Palestine, in the face of extra ordinary obstacles
then every country in the world, including the under-privileged can build sustainably and build their communities right.
Although we may have known that the power to build our communities right, lies in our own hands
I hope we now know that the energy to do so lies below our feet
Welcome to a different kind of underground movement
the movement to create an independent geothermal in Palestine
Thank you very much!
Khaled is an amazing person, and I really want to just point something out
he worked very hard on his talk, very hard on his speech
and I think the results speak for themselves, from what youíve seen
and also a question, how did you choose engineering?
Actually, itís actually a funny question !
I actually wanted to study political science, believe it or not
and my father took a hard look at me and said:
Son, youíre Palestinian, your life is going to be politics, study something else!
I hope that you get to tell more stories, is this the only kind of story you have to tell?
No, Inshalla weíll have plenty more stories to tell, and plenty more projects to show that we are successful
plenty more messages to send around the world
and this is why ëTEDxí is a great organization, itís to allow us to tell the world that we do have inspirational stories
and it isnít all negative attention about Palestine, we have so many positive stories and so many examples to set, to everybody around the world.
This is the last one
ëTEDxí is about spreading ideas itís not really about doing business
But I really I think the idea, this is an important one in terms of protecting the environment and actually doing something positive from here.
What would you ask the audience if you could have them do something, something that would help this happen more
in a business scale, can people do this in their houses?
Absolutely, absolutely! Look, we have to change the way we look at how we build today.
It is paramount to the success of building our country in our future and how, what we transfer to future generations.
We literally have no choice but to focus on sustainable urban development , and you have to look at this as an investment in our future.
Yes, renewable energy technology does cost more than conventional technologies that are available today, but itís an investment.
itís an investment that pays itself off actually , better than most investments that are available and has an excellent return on this investment , and itís sustainable.
and itís paramount that we, sort of, think outside the box, and like i said, look down , and look towards other technologies that are available.
So you are saying Palestinians can save money?!
Thatís brilliant! Thank you very much Khaled Al Sabawi, good luck!