Why Lebanon is experiencing a surprising solar power boom

Solar panels at Sagesse University, in Furn El-Chebbak, a southeastern suburb of Beirut. (Photo: Sagesse University)

Tens of thousands of Lebanese are turning to the solar energy to generate electricity reliable and profitable in a country with more than 300 sunny days and where the crisis-stricken state supplies just one or two hours of electricity a day.

The transition to solar energy was accelerated by the economic collapse suffered by the Middle Eastern country since 2019 and which has made the lebanese lira more than 98% of its value against the US dollar.

The result of the devaluation is that the government has serious difficulties in paying for imported fuel used to power the country’s two main power plants. the state Electricity of Lebanon (EDL), for example, has a capacity of 1,800 megawatts, but currently only supplies between 200 and 250 megawatts. The supply was reduced to one or two hours of electricity a day.

Faced with this situation, in the last two years there have appeared solar panels across the country, from the rooftops of rural houses to urban apartments, and from the rooftops of family businesses to the buildings of national and multinational organizations, according to a report by the magazine TIME that accounts for the energy transformation that the country is experiencing.

Solar panels on a building in Khaldeh (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)
Solar panels on a building in Khaldeh (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir) (MOHAMED AZAKIR/)

Lebanon went from not generating solar power in 2010 to having 90 megawatts of solar capacity in 2020. But the greatest increase occurred when other 100 megawatts in 2021 and 500 megawatts in 2022according to Pierre Khourydirector of the government Lebanese Center for Energy Conservation (LCEC), quoted by TIME. A significant amount if one considers that, before the crisis, the country needed between 2,000 and 3,000 megawatts.

The goal of promoting renewable energy in Lebanon has been furthered by the fact that the Solar power is now the most affordable way to generate electricity Worldwide. The cost has dropped more than 90% in the last decade, thanks to rapid technological improvements and excess production of solar panels.

In Lebanon, the solar sector has skyrocketed, going from about 150 registered companies in 2020 to more than 800 today, according to Khoury. These companies work on all kinds of projects, from small home systems – costing between $2,000 and $3,500 – to projects with hundreds of panels or more.

A building in Sehayleh.  In the last two years, solar panels have appeared throughout the country (REUTERS / Imad Creidi)
A building in Sehayleh. In the last two years, solar panels have appeared throughout the country (REUTERS / Imad Creidi) (STRINGER /)

TIME cite the example of the family mazloumwhich installed 18 solar panels on their homes, something that is saving the entire family between $3,000 and $4,000 a year in electricity and generator bills, compared to an investment of $10,000.

“The main thing is reliability,” he told TIME Elias, one of the family members. “In the last two years, we haven’t had basically no power outages…Even in the really tough times we were still running.”

The American magazine also cites the case of the campus of the Sagesse University. Some 460 solar panels were installed there to cover the needs of the 3,500 students at the educational center. “We are talking about 300 peak kilowatts, on a sunny day like this one,” said the engineer in charge of the installation. The energy generated can be used to power everything, including “lights, chillers, air conditioners, refrigerators, fridges, heaters”. He return on investment is less than one yearassured another of those responsible for the project.

A Lebanese man leans out on a balcony looking at a solar panel he installed on his Khaldeh home.  (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)
A Lebanese man leans out on a balcony looking at a solar panel he installed on his Khaldeh home. (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir) (MOHAMED AZAKIR/)

However, the inability of the state power company to supply electricity, coupled with a lack of large-scale solar parks and green infrastructure, means that Lebanon remains heavily dependent on highly polluting diesel generators.

“The amount of CO2 that is reduced by using solar panels also runs diesel generators for longer,” he said. Marc Ayoub, an energy expert at the American University of Beirut. For this reason, according to this expert, the true ecological solution must come “at the community level: villages, municipalities, regions. That’s where you start to have a big environmental impact.”

But these kinds of projects require a level of investment that the cash-strapped Lebanese government cannot offer.

Still, the conclusion many in Lebanon have come to is to turn to solar power. “People are seeing the real benefits,” he said. Elias Mazlum. “After all, we are going green without realizing it.”

Keep reading:

Lebanon devalued its currency against the dollar by 90%

Human rights organizations called on the UN for an independent investigation into the Beirut explosion

Lebanon’s attorney general ordered the release of all suspects detained over the Beirut port explosion in 2020