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Lebanon’s solar energy transformation

This picture taken on August 29, 2022 shows the solar panels system installed for the village of Toula in northern Lebanon. For the first time in two years, people in north Lebanon's Toula can enjoy ice-cream on summer days thanks to solar energy - a simple treat turned luxury by a nationwide electricity crisis. While many rely on expensive generators for electricity, a growing number of people, companies and state institutions are turning to solar -- not out of environmental concern, but because it has become their only option. (Photo by JOSEPH EID / AFP)

How Lebanon's electricity crisis is embracing sustainable and clean energy with the solar power boom

Power cuts have been a persistent issue in Lebanon for decades due to a dysfunctional energy sector. Energy experts point out that for those who can install solar power, it is ten times cheaper than relying on private generators, as state-run electricity is barely available. Thirty percent of Lebanon’s electricity supply now comes from renewable sources, with the country exceeding its 1000 megawatt ceiling for solar installations. Experts say this means Lebanon has met its 2030 target for reducing emissions, although this achievement was not the result of a deliberate plan to combat global warming but rather a reaction to the economy’s collapse.

Energy conservationists believe the pivotal change was the removal of subsidies on conventional power sources. Pierre Khoury, President of the Board of the Lebanese Center for Energy Conservation, told NOW: “Solar energy is no longer an alternative, it is a necessity. It has become increasingly common to see solar panels on suburban rooftops, parking lots, and farms. This cuts fuel costs and, in some cases, feeds municipal generators.” 

According to Khoury, people are turning to solar power primarily for its reliability and cost-effectiveness compared to diesel-based energy sources, adding that this shift is environmentally beneficial as it reduces greenhouse gas emissions. If the trend continues, he expects that such positive outcomes will be quantifiable and announced in the near future.

Lebanon’s green future may be on the horizon as solar power gains popularity and preference. Despite the high cost of installing solar power, many are selling their assets, including cars, jewelry, and land, to afford this investment. 

Tony Karam, an engineer in non-renewable energy who owns a company offering solar power solutions in Chtoura, told NOW about the increasing demand for solar power, especially among those with space for panels. I have customers who have sold their assets to go ahead with installing solar panels for their homes or businesses. Lebanon’s economic crisis has been the drive towards this boom, especially since we live in a country where the power of solar is visible, given that we are blessed to have 360 days of sunshine a year in Lebanon,” said Karam.

The push toward renewable energy in Lebanon is more a consequence of economic decline than a result of government policy. However, the renewable energy sector needs specific attention from government authorities to establish legal and regulatory frameworks, as well as to secure essential government backing for planning and coordination efforts.

The country’s energy sector is believed to be responsible for around forty percent of Lebanon’s debt, with Electricite Du Liban (EDL), the state-owned utility, grappling with deficits averaging around $1.5 to $2 billion annually over the past decade. These financial shortfalls have significantly contributed to Lebanon’s mounting public debt.

“There has been lots of negligence, lots of carelessness and lots of corruption, there was a very lack of accountability,” said Najat Saliba, Lebanese MP and Environmental Activist. The absence of a consistent regulatory framework has hampered the execution of ambitious renewable energy projects in Lebanon, presenting an opportunity for positive sectoral reform.

For nearly three decades, Lebanese officials have been unsuccessful in adequately managing the electricity system, leading to frequent power outages and undermining the population’s right to electricity and a decent standard of living. Renewable energy, particularly solar power, offers notable advantages for electricity users, such as cost savings and environmental benefits.

Maria Hanna, a salon owner in Al Koura, told NOW how installing solar panels for her salon and home has saved her thousands of dollars. “Every time the bill arrived, I was paying hundreds of dollars because the salon required a substantial amount of electricity for its equipment. Sometimes, the power supply wasn’t even dependable, with the private generator only operating at specific times and sometimes needing to be turned off during fuel shortages,” she explained. Despite the substantial initial investment, Hanna stressed that solar power has provided a stress-free, more reliable, cost-effective long-term solution that is also better for the environment.

The adoption of solar power in Lebanon has experienced a remarkable increase of 2500% over the past decade. Despite the high upfront costs associated with solar energy, its low and predictable operating expenses offer consumers protection against price fluctuations and the monopolistic control of private generators in Lebanon.

Ghassan Mhanna, a proprietor of a private generator in the upper Metn region, shared with NOW, “Over the last two years, we have undoubtedly experienced the effects of the transition of households and businesses to solar power. The number of subscriptions for our generator has notably declined as more individuals have installed solar panels and no longer require electricity from private generators.” While acknowledging that a significant number of individuals have stopped using private generators, Mhanna informed NOW that some households opt for generator subscriptions during the harsh winter months when solar power output is diminished due to reduced sunshine. Additionally, he noted that certain businesses, such as large supermarkets, fuel stations, or butcher shops, still rely on both sources of power, as solar panel-generated electricity alone is insufficient to meet their operational needs.

This aspect is linked to the view of some energy specialists like Marc Ayoub who believe that that “While you may decrease CO2 emissions by utilizing solar panels, you may end up running diesel generators for extended periods as well.” Therefore, the genuine and impactful green solution must emerge at the grassroots level, encompassing villages, municipalities, and entire regions, as this is where significant environmental improvements can truly take root.”

Therefore, a genuine and impactful green solution must emerge at the grassroots level, encompassing villages, municipalities, and entire regions, as this is where significant environmental improvements can truly take root. As Lebanon continues on this path, the hope for a more sustainable and energy-independent future grows stronger, reflecting a broader commitment to environmental stewardship and economic resilience.


Rodayna Raydan is a Lebanese-British journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @Rodayna_462

The views in this story reflect those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of NOW.