Solar ‘boom’ times when Lebanese fossil fuels dry up

Brahman, Lebanon – The whole of Lebanon has been devastated in recent weeks as the entire population is forced to adapt to a life without electricity.

Due to the government’s lack of guaranteed fuel for power plants, state-owned electricity in Lebanon has been reduced to two hours a day, and in some parts of the country it has been shut down completely.

Private diesel generators, which covered a three-hour gap in government power, are now responsible for the remaining 22 hours.

High demand and imports have led to severe oil shortages, and most Lebanese are consuming a black market that sells stored oil in excess. The government sought to reduce the subsidy on diesel fuel, but the only result was a four-fold increase in prices.

Generator subscription fees have risen to astronomical levels to provide enough electricity to cool a family home on hot summer evenings. When generator owners try to save fuel, the rich who still have enough to pay for these high prices still suffer from daily power outages.

Sometimes there is no diesel at all, and they have to sweat in the dark because the food in their refrigerators is safe to eat.

‘Definitely Boom’

As a result, there has been an explosion of interest in alternative energy, and thousands of rich people are now turning to solar energy to be free from the incredible power grid. In a country where the sun shines for about 300 days a year, well-to-do residents are snatching the precious grids needed to maintain electricity and providing security and peace of mind for them and their families.

“In terms of housing, this is definitely a boom,” said Carla Nasab, a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) official who is working on a number of alternative energy initiatives across Lebanon.

“But growth, it’s not just housing, it’s everywhere,” she said. “Industries are looking at solar energy or whatever it gives them, because it is becoming less and less expensive.

A worker loads a $ 1,300 sunscreen at the Summer Matuk home in Brunana, Lebanon. [Adam Muro/Al Jazeera]

Half a dozen Lebanese alternative energy contractors interviewed for this article said they had never seen such demand in solar energy before.

“I say it is going down in history. Probably a factor as to why they’re doing so poorly. Smart Power General Manager Bassam Karam said we have tripled our team in just two weeks. “It’s not just a matter of spending now. The question is, ‘Do you have a lamp or not?’ ”

Karam Smart Power says it is receiving more than 500 requests a week and it is not possible to track everyone.

Solar contractors have told their new customers from all over the country, from all faiths, that they have nothing in common other than paying a high price tag for their new solar system, the so-called “dollar” or “hot” dollar. A.D. Following the collapse of the banking sector in 2019, US green debt was overseas.

New photovoltaic solar panels, ion batteries, and solar inverter – to convert direct current energy from the sun into an alternating current that can be stored in batteries – cost between $ 4,500 and $ 6,000.

Making this amount will provide adequate energy storage for eight to 10 hours after sunrise, and will last for more than 10 years before you make repairs. But the initial investment is beyond what most Lebanese can afford.

“We only take new dollars,” said a Cypriot solar agent, who said he had sold more than 100 systems this summer. Because we import all the goods [the country], Mainly from China and the United States, so we pay in new dollars.

A worker cuts a wire that converts direct current from the sun into a solar inverter [Adam Muro/Al Jazeera]

In Lebanon, as in the rest of the world, demand is so high that it is difficult to bring in the necessary components, and customers are being told to wait long, sometimes up to three months, before installing their systems.

“We have to wait 20 weeks or 25 weeks now, instead of getting our products certified for two or three weeks,” said George Abudud, general manager of Earth Technologies.

So we started producing from other companies, not factories. We are trying to get as much produce as we started with the Emirates and Jordan and Europe, ”he said.

‘Green is easy to climb’

Despite the growing demand, the cost and scarcity of equipment is still a major problem.

“I got the solar panels and the inverter from a company in Milan,” said an unnamed mountaineer in the northern Lebanese town of Bachare. I still can’t find batteries and it’s too expensive.

To save money, he decided to generate and install the solar system himself. He works as a private physics teacher in a regularly-paid Lebanese pound. In order to gain power for his family, they decided to sell some of the gold he had bought when the time came.

Finally, he said, investing in alternative energy was an easy decision. “They are paying the same amount every month in US dollars [for diesel fuel]. So it is easier to keep your home green or use solar or wind power. ”

Chunginering owner and general manager Chawki Laud, when he saw the sunrise a few months ago, stockpiled batteries and solar panels.

As a result, he said, he could complete seven or eight projects a week for an average of $ 6,500 each. He said he would only take big jobs and refer questions to small workers in the industry.

“I always trade with the rich,” he said. “These people, I can assure you, said [access to fresh dollars.]”

A cache of lead acid batteries that store solar energy from the trunk of a solar contractor’s Chawki Laud car. Each battery costs $ 400 and is becoming increasingly difficult to find in Lebanon [Adam Muro/Al Jazeera]

Last week, Lahode was the chief financial officer of a large company, citing a 10-panel, eight-battery setup in a rich village in the mountains above Beirut.

“I didn’t ask for the price, I just asked for the system,” Matuk said. “If you don’t have electricity right now, you have no choice. There are no other options. Otherwise you will shut down your generator, drop your food, and live as you did in 1850.

Madok’s neighbor, Abdulkelek Mallah, said he plans to hire Lahode for a solar system soon.

“We are paying ሚሊዮን 7 million [$4,600] And that comes with daily cuts, ”he said of last month’s diesel generator bills. “The whole system costs about $ 4,800, but the power plant is still more efficient than paying people.

Although this option is only available to the rich, the United Nations says it sees the Lebanese solar boom as a bright spot in contrast to Lebanon.

“What happened is a crisis. It’s very sad, ”she told Al Jazeera. “But I think it will change our behavior in the future.

“This is the pressure people need. In the past, no one has seen the benefits other than being environmentally friendly and easing the pressure on electricity du Liban.

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