March 30, 2023

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Lebanese choose solar energy, a “necessity” with crisis

Thanks to solar energy, residents of the village of Doula, nestled in the mountains of northern Lebanon, can finally treat themselves to ice cream for the first time in two years, a true luxury in a country where the heat crushes it and eats it. Power outages.

Since Lebanon’s economy collapsed in 2019 after decades of corruption and mismanagement, it has been without electricity for more than an hour a day.

Last winter, Doula village benefited from three hours of daily electricity from private generators.

“The kids have been asking for ice cream for two years and now it’s finally time,” exults Jacqueline Younes, owner of Village Supermarket.

“We’re waiting for our first ice cream order to arrive,” he enthuses.

“Solar energy is no longer an option, it is a necessity. Without the panels, the village (of Tula) would have no electricity,” explains engineer Eli Gerij.

He built a 185-panel solar farm on the grounds of the church with a group of volunteers who raised more than 100,000 euros from expats in Tula.

These volunteers worked with the municipality to run the village generator with solar power, reducing fuel costs while running the village.

Solar power now helps keep the lights on for 17 hours, the engineer says.

Private generators are very expensive, and a growing number of individuals, companies and public institutions are switching to solar power not for environmental reasons, but because of a lack of choice.

– Crossing the Solar Milestone –

In Lebanon, rooftops and parking lots are filled with solar panels, powering entire villages and the only functional traffic lights in Beirut, thanks to a local NGO.

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An hour from Tula, the Spinneys supermarket chain is installing panels in the car park and on the roof of its Jbeil branch to reduce bills caused by using generators.

“I think we will save half of our energy costs with solar panels in Jabeel,” said Hassan Ezeldine, head of Gray McKenzie Retail Lebanon, which owns Spinneys.

He says the company regularly spends $800,000 to $1.4 million a month on electricity for its diesel-powered generators.

“The cost of generators today is dramatic. It’s a disaster. »

His company had been considering integrating solar power for years, and the crisis finally convinced him, he says.

Housewife Zeina Sayegh says she paid about $6,000 to install solar power in her Beirut apartment last summer, when the state eliminated most gasoline subsidies.

By then she was the only one who had passed the milestone in her building and was still dependent on a generator subscription.

This year, nine neighbors joined her and covered the roof with metal bars.

Having switched to 100% solar power, it must reduce its electricity use at night, but in return receives continuous electricity in the summer, a luxury.

“I’m so comfortable like this, I feel like I’m in control of the electricity, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she says.

– Expensive change –

But in a country facing severe poverty and savers losing their bank deposits, switching to solar remains a costly undertaking.

Many Lebanese had to sell their car, jewelry or land to finance the transition.

Before the crisis, only a few companies offered solar power installations.

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But strong demand has opened the door to “anyone who wants to sell solar systems,” says Antoine Schaum of solar energy company Free Energy.

Demand for cash-strapped and donor-dependent municipalities has also risen, and political interference is increasing, he said.