Solar Energy

Green Mosques Generate Positive Energy

Up on the roof of Masjid Abu Ghuweileh, Yousef al-Shayeb looks around and smiles, gesturing to an array of solar panels tilted south toward the sun.

Green Mosques Generate Positive Energy

The masjid, or mosque, is located in Tlaa al-Ali, a thriving district in northwestern Amman, Jordan, where he heads the building’s management committee.

“This was stage one—44 panels. Over there was stage two—64 panels. Now we are all set—for the next 20 years at least,” al-Shayeb says, mentioning the pride he feels for leading the project to install the solar panels. “I served the military, and now I serve the community, this house of God and everyone in this neighborhood.”

An electrical engineer by trade, al-Shayeb spent 22 years with the Royal Jordanian Air Force before retiring in 1990 as a brigadier general. Then he transferred his professional and technical expertise to his community in Tlaa al-Ali.

Masjid Abu Ghuweileh is not a large building. A recent extension allows up to 650 worshipers for the Friday midday congregational prayer, though average attendance is fewer. The mosque is a mainstay of the neighborhood, says al-Shayeb, who moved to the area in 1986; even then it was a cornerstone of community life.

Until a few years ago, the mosque’s monthly electricity bill ran upward of 1,000 Jordanian dinars (about us $1,400). Today, thanks to solar panels on the roof, the bill is zero, al-Shayeb says.

The upgrade forms part of a Jordanian government initiative to retrofit mosques across the country with solar photovoltaic (pv) panels. These convert sunlight—abundant hereabouts—into electricity. The initiative is administered through the Jordan Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Fund (jreeef), established in 2012 as an office of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources. 

The project at Masjid Abu Ghuweileh is among a number of “green mosque” schemes in Jordan and elsewhere around the world intended to help meet conservation and climate challenges at a grassroots level.

“Electricity and energy consumption is a very big issue in Jordan,” says Lina al-Mobaideen, an engineer who heads project development at jreeef. “The heaviest worries are about how we can reduce demand, and so reduce the overall energy bill. This led the government to [formulate policy] encouraging individuals to reduce their consumption.”

Al-Mobaideen highlights a partnership established in 2016 between jreeef and Jordan’s Ministry of Awqaf (religious endowments) to focus on places of worship as nodes of influence within every community.

“Energy consumption at mosques is very high,” she says. Islam’s five daily prayer times—at dawn, midday, afternoon, sunset and evening—mean that worshipers tend to flow in and out of mosques all day long. Lighting, as well as equipment for cooling in summer and heating in winter, often stays on throughout.

The mosque is the most appropriate place to encourage people to change their behavior and introduce them to renewable energy. —Lina al-Mobaideen

In 2017 jreeef began launching tenders, area by area, to install solar pv systems in many mosques throughout the nation. By 2019 about 500 mosques were running on solar power, with the intention of extending the project to most of Jordan’s 6,500 mosques (the smallest have energy usage so low that conversion is often uneconomic) as well as Jordan’s smaller number of churches. Parallel schemes have been launched in educational institutions.

“It’s an awareness tool,” says Samer Zaway-deh, an independent consultant on renewable energy in Jordan and long-time educator for the Association of Energy Engineers, a us-based nonprofit organization that coordinates training for the sector worldwide. “Mosques and schools are places where people visit a lot. If people see solar pv, ask what it is, and learn more, then maybe they will choose it for their home or office.”

The project works through direct grants from the Jordanian government. Each mosque submits a proposal for a solar pv system, with size and capacity based on the building’s electricity consumption over the previous 12 months. Contractors, who are all Jordanian, then source components on the open market. One-quarter of the cost is covered by jreeef and one-quarter by the Ministry of Awqaf, which disburses the grant. The remainder must be paid by the mosque community, usually by donations from members.

“People are continuously donating,” says al-Shayeb. “The community already paid 300,000 dinars to renovate and extend this building. Then we gave priority to solar panels, because we were paying such high bills every month. People started donating right away.”

The Abu Ghuweileh mosque was one of the first in Jordan to install solar panels, as early as 2013. By 2018 the two-stage installation was complete. Total outlay came to around 35,000 dinars, of which the government paid about 7,000—a lower-than-usual amount because the mosque began its conversion independently.

Al-Shayeb calculates that with shifts in the energy market and other economic considerations the community will recoup its investment in about a year and a half, while Zawaydeh estimates a payback period of between two and three years for solar pv systems of this type. But that’s still a remarkably attractive proposition and it shows that prices have fallen substantially, even in the last few years. A 2014 study in Kuwait to convert all of that country’s 1,400 mosques to solar power suggested a payback period as long as 13 years.

“Solar makes a big difference,” Zawaydeh says. “It’s a fantastic opportunity [and the benefits] can be realized fairly quickly. It makes financial sense.”

The switch to solar power for mosques in Jordan is running alongside programs to reduce water use—the Islamic requirement for ablution before each of the five daily prayers can create heavy demand—and replace incandescent lighting with led bulbs, which use much less energy and last much longer.

Such concerns are rooted in budgetary prudence but can be corroborated in religion—a vital connection the government is making to encourage mosque communities.

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