by Dana Halawi
BEIRUT, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Lebanon has been exploring a green way to solve its chronic electricity shortage by expanding solar power in its energy mix, according to a Lebanese energy expert affiliated with the country's energy ministry.
Lebanon started using solar power as late as 2010. Since then, the country saw a rapid capacity increase to 1000 MW in June 2023, which, with a lower capacity factor, is equivalent to 700 MW of conventional electricity, said Pierre el Khoury, the general director of the Lebanese Center of Energy Conservation, an official entity at the ministry.
"In our belief, Lebanon has started solving its electricity crisis, as the use of solar energy will continue to increase soon," Khoury told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.
The slice of solar in Lebanon's energy mix grew remarkably between 2019 and 2023, Khoury said, adding total energy demand in Lebanon dropped by 40 percent during this period.
Given the demand for conventional electricity in today's Lebanon is at around 1,500 to 2000 MW, solar energy capacity has taken up 30 percent of conventional electricity, according to the expert.
In 2022, the prices of fuel for public and private-run electricity stations increased significantly in Lebanon after fuel subsidies ended in the country struck by the financial crisis.
The lack of fuel was exacerbated by the shortage of U.S. dollars in the past three years, which limits the country's capacity to import fuel for the operation of power stations. As a result, Lebanese households bear daily intermittent power cuts that last for up to 20 hours a day.
The severe power shortage has prompted Lebanese to opt for an energy-efficient lifestyle and explore cheaper and "more creative" electricity solutions, he explained.
Many individuals, industrialists, and businesses started to buy and install solar panels on their own, said Khoury, adding that however, only medium and high-income people could afford solar panels.
Meanwhile, international donations also help Lebanese public institutions to operate more on solar power.
Still, there remains a challenge of devising a financing mechanism to reduce the cost of solar panels for low-income citizens, he added.
"The ministry and the state-run Elecricite Du Liban (EDL) are preparing a new review to assess total energy needs, but in our belief, the existing power plants available in Lebanon, in addition to solar energy, are enough to supply 24 hours of electricity," he said.
"Traditional power plants should ensure a base load to stabilize the network, and then we will be adding renewable energy," the expert added.
In early May, the Lebanese government signed contracts with 11 private sector companies to build solar power plants with a capacity of 15 megawatts per station.
Lebanese Energy Minister Walid Fayyad said solar energy generated from the 11 power plants would be sold at different prices, with the Bekaa region's power plants charging 5.7 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour, and power plants in the rest of the country charging 6.27 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour.
Fayyad said the prices are cheaper than the power produced by the EDL, which costs 17 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour.
Khoury said the Lebanese private sector has been working with the government to persuade international lenders to subsidize private electricity sales to the EDL, and subsequently to provide cheap electricity to citizens.