Amid an energy crisis, ice cream returns to a Lebanese village thanks to solar energy

Ice cream is back on the shelves in the village of Toula in northern Lebanon after two years of power cuts.

Solar energy has made his comeback possible.

Lebanon’s economy collapsed in 2019 after decades of corruption and mismanagement, leaving the state unable to provide electricity for more than an hour or two a day.

Last winter, the inhabitants of Tula had barely three hours of electricity supplied by a generator each day.

For many, solar power has become their only option amid a national electricity crisis.(AFP: Joseph Aid)

Solar power can now keep lights on for 17 hours, said an engineer working on the alternative energy project.

Mini-market owner Jacqueline Younes said she was waiting for the first order of ice cream to arrive.

“For two years kids have been begging for ice cream, now it’s finally time,” she said.

While many Lebanese depend on expensive generators for electricity, a growing number of homes, businesses and public institutions are turning to solar power.

They don’t do it for environmental reasons but because it’s their only option.

A solar panel is lifted onto a roof.
Solar panels have been installed as shades above vehicles in the parking lot of a shopping center in the city of Byblos. (AFP: Joseph Aid)

Solar panels dot rooftops and parking lots, powering entire villages and Beirut’s only functioning traffic lights, thanks to a local nongovernmental organization.

“Solar energy is no longer an alternative, it’s a necessity,” said engineer Elie Gereige.

“If we hadn’t put up panels, the village wouldn’t have electricity.”

Ms. Gereige is part of a team of volunteers who raised more than US$100,000 ($148,000) from expats in Tula to build a solar farm with 185 panels installed on church grounds.

They worked with the municipality to power the village generator with solar energy, reducing fuel costs while powering the entire community.

Solar panels above the parking lot.
Solar panels cover a parking lot in the city of Byblos, in northern Lebanon. (AFP: Joseph Aid)

An hour’s drive south of Tula, a branch of Spinneys supermarket is also installing signs in the parking lot and on the roof to reduce its generator bills.

Hassan Ezzeldine, who is the chairman of Gray Mackenzie Retail Lebanon, which owns the supermarket, said he believed the change would cut their energy bill in half.

He said the company spends between $800,000 and $1.4 million a month on electricity for its supermarket chain to power 24-hour diesel generators.

Rows of solar panels with buildings in the background.
Solar power now keeps lights on for 17 hours in northern Lebanon. (AFP: Joseph Aid)

“The cost of generators today is dramatic,” Mr. Ezzeldine said.

“It is a disaster.”

“We thought…this is something we had to do, and we had to do it immediately.”

A woman stands inside a roof with her arm raised, gesturing towards solar panels.
Zeina Sayegh has solar panels on top of her apartment building in Lebanon’s capital Beirut, which were installed after electricity from a generator became inaccessible.(AFP: Joseph Aid)

Residents are also turning to solar to reduce generator bills, installing panels and batteries on balconies and rooftops.

Zeina Sayegh installed solar power for around $6,000 in her Beirut apartment last summer, when the state lifted most gasoline subsidies.

She was the only one in the building with signs.

This year, nine neighbors joined her, covering the roof with metal bars connecting dozens of panels.

An aerial photo of solar panels on the edge of a village surrounded by trees and buildings.
For the first time in two years, residents of Tula, in northern Lebanon, can enjoy ice cream on summer days thanks to solar energy. (AFP: Dylan Collins)

It has gone completely solar, limiting electricity consumption at night and has non-stop electricity in the summer, which is a rare luxury.

“I’m more comfortable this way. I feel like I’m controlling the electricity and not the other way around,” she said.

In a country where poverty is endemic and where bank depositors with savings are stuck in their accounts, installing solar energy is expensive.

Many Lebanese have resorted to selling a car, jewelry or land to afford to switch to solar.

However, Free Energy’s Antoine Skayem said the demand had opened the door “for anyone to start selling solar systems”.

He said demand from cash-strapped municipalities had soared, but they were vulnerable to political interference and patronage.


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