It is time for Lebanon to talk about (big) solar energy projects

If you ever lived in or visited Lebanon, chances are you have experienced daily electricity outages. With an increasing demand for electricity, Electricite du Liban (EDL) continues to fall short of meeting demand with an average supply of 15h per day.

In this blog, Critical Energy examines the potential for large, utility-scale, solar PV farms in Lebanon. This text is a prologue of a holistic assessment of the true potential of solar PV systems in Lebanon done by researchers at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS).

The main question is, if we were to use solar PV to cover Lebanon’s peak-load of electricity (see table below), what are the resources required?

Daily day loads in 2016 (in MWh)

To cover the winter day peak-load, the required capacity is 1,018 Megawatt, while that of summer time is around 937. Since the capacity needed for the winter case is greater, it is considered as the target capacity. Therefore, this capacity can cover even more than the day peak-load during summer and contribute to the base-load generation.

The major barrier usually considered for building solar PV farms are the upfront costs. However, the global weighted average utility-scale solar PV costs have declined greatly from around 5,000 USD/kW in 2009 to 1,800 USD/kW in 2015. They are further expected to fall to below 800USD/kW in 2025.

Therefore, the required investment for building 1,018 MW of solar PV would cost around $1.83 billion USD (2016), assuming the full capacity is built using the current prices. However, if Lebanon decided to adopt an ambitious expansion plan of solar PV, this will likely be multi-phased i.e., benefiting from potential cost reduction in the future.

Potential locations for solar PV farms in Lebanon

Filtered potential land areas for solar PV farms in Lebanon

The total suitable area for building solar PV farms in Lebanon is around 148 km2 (Lebanon’s total area 10,452 km2), with 61 km2 having the highest irradiation levels (2265 kWh/m2). This is twice as much as required to generate the required capacity to cover peak-load.

Lebanon can, at least, have 10 suitable locations to build such projects. The screening methodology included several constraints such as avoidance of steep topographies, shores, and hazard zones such as:

earthquakes, fires, landslides, and floods in addition to favoring locations with areas exceeding 10,000 m2 lying in the vicinity of the urban settlements; these respectively guarantee the generation capacity of at least 1MW and low transportation costs. However, further improvements to the grid will be required to be able to handle the full capacity targeted.

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Contribution: Ali Hadi Berjawi and Sara Najem.

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