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The UNDP-CEDRO Program’s Solar Power Initiatives Hassan Harajli
05/03/2015
The CEDRO project, a UNDP executed program, has been established since 2007, originally through a generous grant from the Government of Spain, through the Lebanon Recovery Fund, of approximately $10 million. At that time, renewable energy at large, and solar power in specific (with the exception of residential solar hot water systems), have not yet begun to be well propagated and/established. The CEDRO 1,2,3 program (2007-2013), tasked itself with over 100 demonstration projects in public sector facilities across the country in order to jolt forward the renewable energy market in Lebanon, raise confidence in these distributed systems as a means for alleviating the power shortages and reducing the environmental footprint of energy generation, and work on removing barriers that may prohibit their success, such as paving the way for grid connection via the net metering arrangement.
 
Focusing on solar energy, sixteen large commercial-sized solar hot water systems, ranging from 2,000 to 32,000 liters each (to put in perspective, residential solar hot water units are usually 200-300 liters each), have been installed by CEDRO on public hospitals, army military barracks, and prisons, and are achieving annual savings on diesel consumption for hot water purposes in the range of 60-65%.
With respect to solar powered electricity, the UNDP-CEDRO project has installed approximately 70 photovoltaic (PV) systems with capacities ranging from 1.2 kWp to 2.7 kWp in various public schools, municipalities, and community centers. These systems introduced a relatively novel architecture for solar power, termed dual-mode systems, which fit the Lebanese case very well. The Lebanese case is that of persisting blackouts (electricity cuts), and therefore the PV systems had battery banks to cover for the times of blackouts, yet they also were able to interact and export power to the grid when the grid is present.
 
The final involvement of the original CEDRO program in solar power focused on solar street lighting. Solar street lighting is a common request by most municipalities across the country. In the absence of reliable grid electricity to power the usual lighting poles, solar street lighting offers a means to reduce accidents at night, increase the sense of safety and security, and improve the social activity of any town at night. The projects of solar power in CEDRO have demonstrated both autonomous solar powered lighting poles, the most common specifications of outdoor street lighting, and centralized solar powered street lighting, as was implemented at Batroun Port, where over 80 LED poles are powered by a small 8 kWp PV station.
 
The importance of the original CEDRO program was not these tens of sites indicated to above, although they are viewed with great appreciation and importance by their respective institutions, it was the incubation of the solar power market as a whole, the marketing and awareness raising built around these technologies, the creation of opportunities for various companies to venture in, invest, grow, and compete, and the pressure on prices to come down due to this increased competition and capacity building for solar power. Today, solar power PV systems, for example, are a third of the cost they used to be in 2008, and this is not all due to the international prices of PV panels, that have also dropped dramatically. It is due to the local market peculiarities. Today, commercial solar hot water systems are half the cost of what they used to be in 2008 and most of this reduction in costs is due to the local market being developed.
 
CEDRO’s work on solar power has not been concluded however. Two distinct areas are the focus of the next CEDRO 4 phase (2014-2016) currently in operation, funded by the European Union. The first of these areas is revolved around commercial and/or industrial PV systems, of sizes greater than 100 kWp and reaching to 300 kWp (and can reach even more). For these systems, installing battery storage systems would be prohibitively expensive (due to the large capacity required), and therefore the PV system would be installed to synchronize with the existing diesel generators, when power with the utility is not present, and with the utility when power from the grid is present. Seven sites across Lebanon have been selected to benefit from these PV systems; four large-to-medium industries, two education hubs, and one larger market place . The EU-funded CEDRO will finance 50% of the costs while the remaining 50% will be financed by the selected sites themselves. The total capacity of these sites is expected to reach almost 1.5 MW. It is hoped that these demonstration project will pave the way for hundreds of similar applications in the private sector.
 
The second and final intervention in solar power of the CEDRO 4 program is to demonstrate the concept of a micro-grid. Work is ongoing for a Lebanese village (Kabrikha, South Lebanon), where the municipality has organized, concentrated, owned and now operates its own grid or network of electricity powered by 2 large diesel generators to compensate its citizens for the long blackout hours of power. This creates the perfect conditions to test the microgrid concept. The actions necessitate the construction of a small solar PV power farm that will power the village in synchrony with the diesel genset when utility electricity is not present, and then switch to being connected to the national utility when power is. The elements for success require that the national utility accept to treat the village as one customer, i.e., accepts to bill the municipality as one customer with one aggregate bill taken from the main electricity feeder that goes to the town, leaving the municipality to collect the bills and organize the administration within its jurisdiction.
 
The Lebanese electricity system’s condition of unreliability and power shortages has created both opportunities and barriers for solar power in Lebanon. Opportunities are in the form of the potential to reduce costs by reducing diesel fuel consumption and reduce pollution, while the barriers are in the complexity of integrating solar power (and other renewables for that matter) into the Lebanese network under its current conditions. The CEDRO program has been at the forefront of pushing forward this sector for Lebanon, paving the way for more commercial-oriented support, currently in the form of the soft loans of NEEREA (under the management of the Ministry of Energy and Water, the Lebanese Central Bank, and the Lebanese Center for Energy Conservation) that are essential to ensure the mass uptake of renewable power. In a country that pays almost a third of its gross domestic product on energy provision, it would be a crime not to rely more and more on solar power to reduce this mass exodus of Lebanese capital and resources.
 
 
 
 Hassan Harajli – UNDP-CEDRO Project Manager
 
 
 
 
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