Solar revolution in Lebanon could offer alternative to power blackouts

By Timothy Kinahan Maloy, The Arab Weekly  |  Aug. 7, 2017 at 11:42 AM
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BEIRUT, Lebanon, Aug. 7 (UPI) -- For Jil Amine, Lebanon is experiencing a "solar revo­lution."

"The growth of the tech­nology has been expo­nential," said Amine, the United Nations Development Program project manager for the Small Decentralized Renewable En­ergy Power Generation 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 105,000-square-foot solar farm suspended over the river -- to the roofs of the American University of Beirut 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 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 to 2015, with the rate of growth year over year forecast to be even faster.

The "Solar PV (Photovoltaic) Sta­tus Report for Lebanon 2015" stated that there are robust solar us­age trends across all sectors of the economy. The study was conducted by the Small Decentralized Renew­able Energy Power Generation Pro­ject, a joint endeavor 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 at 22 percent, the residential and agricultural sectors with 1.7 MWp at 18 percent each and the industrial sector with 1.6 MWp at 17 percent.

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

"Private investors are growing more comfortable with the busi­ness," Amine said.

Kamel Rajeh, the managing partner of Al Nahda Trading and Industry Co. in Baakleen, southeast 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 of only 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 percent during the period.

Amine noted the important role Lebanon's National Energy Effi­ciency and Renewable Energy Ac­tion 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.

This article originally appeared at The Arab Weekly.

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