BEIRUT -- Solar panels have become a familiar sight on the rooftops of all types of buildings -- shops, factories, laboratories, schools, hospitals and hotels -- in all parts of Lebanon.
The proliferation is a visual indication that Lebanese citizens and economic and service sectors are turning away from electricity provided by the state and private generators because of their unreliability and high cost.
Successive governments have been unable to resolve the electricity crisis because of the corruption of the political class and Hizbullah's hand in key ministries.
As summer approaches, there has been a major shift toward solar power.
"Today I am setting up a solar panel installation workshop for our apartment in Ashrafieh, to secure electricity and save on its cost," said Joseph Nasr, 67, a retired professor and father of two adult children.
"It is true that it cost me a large sum to set up the solar panels, but I pay it only once and will have power for the longest possible part of the day for the daily running of our lives," he told Al-Mashareq.
In the summer this is especially important, given the need for air conditioners and refrigerators, he said.
"I am waiting for my only son to come with his family from Dubai at the beginning of the summer to oversee the installation of the panels and pay for them," said Nasr's neighbour Violette Raphael, who is a widow.
Monteverdi Hotel owner Aida Rahmeh meanwhile said she had to switch to solar power "to operate the hotel because of the high cost of the mazout used to operate the private generators".
"Today, we obtain 25% of the hotel's electricity from solar power, and we expect this to increase to 35% in the summer," she told Al-Mashareq.
The hotel has not fully switched to solar power yet because of "the high cost", she said, as the current occupancy rate does not cover the cost of the equipment.
But she hopes "that in the summer the occupancy rate will increase so that we can up our use of solar power", she said.
Irregular electricity supply
"The demand for solar power for homes is increasing steadily, especially for those who have space to install solar panels," said Patrick Oudaimi, who owns a solar power company in the northern Metn.
"Those who do not have the space are reserving the panels to install them after securing an adequate place for them," he told Al-Mashareq.
He attributed the demand for panels to "the unavailability of electricity on a regular basis and its cost after the state increased the price, and also the high cost of subscribing to private generators".
"There is a high demand for solar power because Lebanon gets some sun every day of the year except for rainy and stormy days in the winter," Oudaimi added.
"In practice, the Lebanese have begun to completely dispense with state electricity and private generators, because solar power saves them between 60 and 90% on their electricity bill," he said.
High demand for solar panels
Banque de l'Habitat chairman and general manager Antoine Habib told Al-Mashareq the demand "for solar power loans is very high".
The bank co-operates with many parties, including the US Agency for International Development (USAID), to provide solar power loans in dollars.
"The bank has set a maximum amount of $10,000 for solar power loans, to be repaid over 10 years, and it hinges on citizens and companies obtaining the real estate affidavit to complete the loan transactions," Habib said.
Lebanese Centre for Energy Conservation director Pierre el-Khoury said Lebanon "has recorded the highest conversion rate from conventional power to solar power in recent years".
Solar power holds much promise for the future as it is cheaper than fuel and mazout, he said, adding that he hopes that over the next five years, Lebanon will be using even more environment-friendly energy.