First Published: 2017-08-09

Solar revolution in Lebanon could offer meaningful alternative to power blackouts
The industrial sector is showing the most rapid growth in conversion to solar energy.
Middle East Online

By Timothy Kinahan Maloy - BEIRUT

Photovoltaic panels are seen above the Beirut River

For Jil Amine, Lebanon is experiencing a “solar revo­lution.”

“The growth of the tech­nology has been expo­nential,” said Amine, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Project Manager for the Small Decentralised Renewable En­ergy Power Generation (DREG) Pro­ject. “The trend that we see going forward over the next half-decade should continue the high percent­age growth rate.”

For nearly the entire year — other than the rainy winter months — Lebanon is a sun-kissed salient, a resource being harnessed at a rapid rate to provide electricity for com­mercial and residential consumers.

As technology drives prices down, and government subsidies and loans become readily available, solar pow­er is providing a meaningful alterna­tive to the endemic power blackouts that occur throughout Lebanon.

From the large-scale Beirut Riv­er Solar Snake — a 9,750 sq. me­tre solar farm suspended over the river — to the roofs of the American University of Beirut (AUB) engineer­ing school, solar energy installations have increased among municipali­ties and residential users.

A recent plan to expand solar us­age by state-owned Electricité du Liban drew 265 proposals from lo­cal and international companies to develop solar farms in Lebanon. The Ministry of the Environment is seeking to produce 180 megawatts (MW) of solar power throughout the country with approximately 12 solar farms.

A survey released at the end of last year reported that the local photovoltaic solar energy market saw a triple-digit percentage in­crease from 2014-15. The study added that the rate of growth year over year was forecasted to be even faster.

The “Solar PV (Photovoltaic) Sta­tus Report for Lebanon 2015″ report stated that there are robust solar us­age trends across all sectors of the economy. The study was conducted by the Small Decentralised Renew­able Energy Power Generation Pro­ject, a joint endeavour of UNDP Lebanon and the Ministry of Energy and Water.

The survey reported that, in terms of usage, the top four sectors in the solar PV market are the com­mercial sector with 2 megawatts peak (MWp) at 22%, the residential and agricultural sectors with 1.7 MWp at 18% each and the industrial sector with 1.6 MWp at 17%.

The industrial sector is showing the most rapid growth in conver­sion to solar energy.

“Private investors are becoming more comfortable with the busi­ness,” Amine said.

Kamel Rajeh, the managing partner of Al Nahda Trading and Industry Company in Baakleen, south-east of Beirut, reported that converting to solar power two years ago has made a large cost differen­tial in running the company’s stone business.

“It’s great in terms of cost efficien­cy if you are using electricity during the day. If you need to store power for the night, it becomes a whole dif­ferent equation. The batteries are very expensive and their lifetime is only seven years,” he said.

While the upfront cost for power­ing an entire factory was large, Ra­jeh said the system ultimately cov­ers its cost.

“The system cost us $84,000 but has a payback period within eight years,” he said. “It generates the equivalent of 39 [kilowatt hours] per day. The cost is covered by sav­ings from not paying electricity bills and by the subsidies we receive from the government.”

The cost to install and operate PV systems has been steadily drop­ping. The average cost of installing has dropped from $7.20 per watt of electrical power generation in 2010 to $2.70 per watt in 2015, represent­ing a marked drop of 63% during the period.

Amine noted the important role Lebanon’s National Energy Effi­ciency and Renewable Energy Ac­tion (NEEREA) plan played in the growth of solar power since its in­troduction in 2010. With the help of soft loans provided under NEEREA, Lebanon’s cumulative investments in solar power grew from $2.3 mil­lion in 2010 to $9.4 million in 2013 and $30.5 million by the end of 2015.

The growth is expected to con­tinue in a virtuous upward spiral over the near term as residences, municipalities, factories and retail operations find the lowering cost attractive and become more famil­iar with the technology.

“The growth year-over-year is ex­pected to continue at an exponen­tial rate,” said Amine.

Timothy Kinahan Maloy is a contributor to The Arab Weekly and deputy editor and correspondent at An-Nahar English.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.

 

Turkey, US agree to ‘work together’ in Syria

Fears of expanding Syrian war could trigger peace deal

Netanyahu warns Iran, brandishes piece of metal

66 feared dead as plane crashes in Iranian mountains

Students in Damascus brave shelling to attend school

Israeli, US officials meet over gas row with Lebanon

Iran's supreme leader says progress needed on justice

Syria Kurds claim striking positions in Turkey

Saudi women to open businesses without male permission

Netanyahu slams 'outrageous' Holocaust remark by Polish PM

Israeli air strikes kill 2 in Gaza

Six suffer breathing difficulties after Turkish shelling in Afrin

Russian mercenaries - a discrete weapon in Syria

Iran protests ban on wrestler who threw bout to avoid Israel

Battle to free Mosul of IS 'intellectual terrorism'

Turkey frees Garman-Turk journalist after one year without charge

Turkey hands life sentences to 3 journalists for Gulen links

Thousands protest corruption in Tel Aviv amid PM indictment call

Prominent jihadist commander killed by rival Syria rebels

300 Russians killed in Syria battle last week

Tillerson, Erdogan have ‘productive, open’ talk

Iran raises rates, freezes accounts in bid to shore up rial

Kremlin says five Russians killed in US Syria strikes

Oman FM in rare visit by Arab official to Jerusalem

Senior IS leader extradited to Iraq from Turkey

Strikes hit another hospital in Syria's Idlib

Churches snub Jerusalem reception over tax dispute with Israeli authorities

Tillerson says US never gave 'heavy arms' to Kurdish YPG

Captured foreign IS suspects claim innocence

Yemeni mother awaits death penalty for spying for UAE

Fuel shortage shuts down Gaza's only power plant

Morocco arrests three suspected IS terrorists

Family of dead environmentalist in Iran threatened

Israel hands life sentence to Palestinian for triple murder

US appeals to Turkey to concentrate on fighting IS

Turkey sets up new 'observation point' in Syria's Idlib

Malaysia rejects criticism over Israeli visit

Tillerson in Ankara to ease Turkey tensions

Egypt arrests ex-presidential candidate

Tillerson: Hezbollah is part of Lebanon's 'political process'

Netanyahu says government ‘stable’ despite police recommending indictment

Corruption accusations facing Netanyahu

Syria denies ‘unacceptable’ chemical weapons use

Nations pledge nearly $25 billion toward Iraq's reconstruction

Egypt remands in custody former anti-corruption chief