BEIRUT: In a report issued Wednesday at the Beirut Energy Forum, Lebanon posted 123 percent growth in solar energy capacity for 2016, compared to an international average of 33 percent growth for the same period.
In a sector breakdown, industrial solar capacity skyrocketed over 250 percent in 2016 compared to the previous year, showing that local factories are becoming the fastest local adopter of sun-generated electrical power.
“The growth of the technology has been exponential. The trend that we see going forward over the next half-decade should continue the high percentage growth rate," Jil Amine, project manager for the Small Decentralized Renewable Energy Power Generation (DREG) Project, told Annahar.
"This makes four years in-a-row of triple-digit growth in solar energy for Lebanon," Amine added.
DREG is a joint venture between the United Nations Development Program and the Lebanese Ministry of Water and Energy.
Amine presented DREG's "Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Status Report for Lebanon" during this week’s Energy Forum at the Le Royale Hotel, attended by industry players, government officials, and technology academics.
The importance and relevance of solar-generated electricity cannot be overstated for a country that is both cursed with a perennial electricity shortage and blessed with sunshine.
As technology improvements drive prices down, and government subsidies and loans become readily available, solar power is providing a meaningful alternative to the rolling power blackouts that occur countrywide, noted Amine and a number of other speakers at the conference.
From the large-scale Beirut River Solar Snake — a 9,750 sq. meter solar farm suspended over the river — to the Harissa shrine, street lights in the Bekaa, the ABC shopping malls, the roofs of the American University of Beirut (AUB) engineering school and a growing list of factories across the country, solar energy installations have increased among municipalities, industrial, commerical 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 Energy and Water is seeking to produce 180 megawatts (MW) of solar power throughout the country with approximately 12 solar farms.
Additionally it was announced at the Energy Forum that the European Investment Bank (EIB) and Agence Francaise de Development (AFD) plan to provide a financing facility of over $95 million for renewable energy programs in Lebanon. The facility will go toward low interest loans through local banks slated for solar and other renewable projects.
The effective interest rate on loans will be near to zero as the the program will be subsidized by the Central Bank. The EIB/AFB credit facility is designed to finance small-scale renewable energy projects. The program will be run in parallel with existing Lebanese government energy programs.
Newly installed solar PV capacity set a record in 2016 with an additional 12.71 MWp installed; bringing the total installed capacity to approximately 23 MWp. Given the high percentage growth of the last four consecutives years, this markedly improves Lebanon's prospects for meeting its national goal of 100 MWp of solar capacity by 2020, according to the Solar Status Report.
Also according to the report, the average turnkey price for PV installation has fallen from $7,093 in 2010 to $1,875 in 2016; a drop of 74 percent over seven years
The survey reported that, in terms of investment growth, the top four sectors in the solar PV market are the industrial sector with a 24 percent increase in investment for 2016; commercial sector with a 20 percent investment growth; residential posting a 19 percent investment growth; public sector showing 17 percent growth; agricultural sector with 9 percent increase; educational with 6 percent; and non-profit sector posting a 5 percent investment increase.
“Private investors are becoming more comfortable with the business,” Amine said. "Industry is realizing that solar is going to save them a lot of money."
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.
Rajeh like the majority - if not all factory users - opted against a battery backup system, as it’s essentially not needed.
Nevertheless, the upfront cost of powering an entire factory was large, but Rajeh added that the system ultimately covers its cost.
Amine explained that Lebanese residential usage is constrained by a regulatory framework that does not allow households to sell back extra electrical capacity to EDL – a practice in the US and Europe where homes are connected to a regional grid – and thus the local price points are still unattractive for home installation. Also, battery installation is a costly consideration.
“Residential usage of solar will pick up markedly, like in other countries, once changes are made on connecting to EDL,” he told Annahar. “Overall, robust, high-percentage growth is expected to remain going forward.”
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