Feature Story

Rays of hope: Greening the reconstruction of Lebanon

October 26, 2016

"Now that our maintenance team have experienced first-hand the installation, operation and maintenance of this relatively new technology, we can play an important role in bringing it to other hospitals, hospital staff, patients, and the general public in this southern part of Lebanon."

“Saïda government hospital was established in December 2006 following the war in Lebanon. I came on board as a maintenance engineer back then, and was in charge of completing maintenance checks, both preventive and corrective. Electricity supply in Lebanon was highly unreliable then, and we had to rely heavily on diesel generators – a hospital cannot provide proper medical care without hot water and electricity.

One of my tasks was to perform daily inspections of the generators and boilers to make sure oil and diesel levels were correct. There was no proper record-keeping system for tracking diesel usage, as we lacked qualified personnel and funds to invest in a state-of-the art monitoring system. Using my manual records, I could estimate our fuel consumption at between 150 - 200 litres of diesel per day – solely for hot water! This was an astronomical figure, especially considering that this is a public hospital and most of the patients are poor, coming from war-affected areas, and cannot afford private medical care.

In 2009, the government raised donor funding to promote the installation of solar technology to supplement energy supply to public buildings. Energy engineers conducted a site assessment for Saïda Hospital, working out our diesel consumption – for lighting, hot-water usage and general electrical supply – and comparing this to our needs, taking into account our bed-capacity and operating hours. During that period, the hospital management team was also restructuring the maintenance department, and this gave me the opportunity to become involved in the solar water heating project – partly in my capacity as the maintenance manager, and also because I was simply an enthusiastic technician.

The first few months after the installation were the most critical, as we were not too sure how the system would function, and whether it would generate enough hot water – a critical matter in a hospital. To our relief and pleasure, the system proved to be highly efficient. The use of this technology resulted in a cost saving of over US$7,000 per year – much-needed funds that could then be used for other upgrades or the purchase of new medical equipment. Most of the savings were realised through a drop in diesel consumption by the old boilers – a decrease of 70 percent, to only 50 litres per day.

The solar water heating installation has made a real difference to the operation of this hospital. We had an incident about a year ago that confirmed this for me. One of the water pumps broke down and I had to call in contractors to repair it. I immediately switched on the back-up boilers and hardly expected anyone to know the difference. To my surprise, within a few hours the hospital manager called me up asking why there was a shortage of hot water – the boilers take much longer to heat the water than the solar panels do, and the hospital had grown used to the greater efficiency of the solar heating system.

I have had both staff members and patients ask me whether this technology can be installed in their homes – remember that electricity shortages do not only affect public buildings in Lebanon; in their homes, people often experience long power blackouts and carry the heavy cost of buying generators and diesel for meeting basic needs such as hot water, and have to suffer the impacts on their health of living with all the diesel fumes.

I understand that one of the main reasons for converting to solar technology is that it helps in the fight against climate change. Reducing the use of diesel results in lower emissions of carbon dioxide – in the case of Saïda hospital, we have calculated that use of the solar panels will reduce our carbon emissions – just from this hospital – by about 28.74 tons per year. But, what I have seen here is that it also brings a real improvement in the kind of care the hospital can provide, and the patients are better off. Now that our maintenance team have experienced first-hand the installation, operation and maintenance of this relatively new technology, we can play an important role in bringing it to other hospitals, hospital staff, patients, and the general public in this southern part of Lebanon.”

MR. HISHAM ABBAS, is the Director of the Clinical Energy Department at Saïda (Sidon) Governmental Hospital in South Lebanon. He holds a degree in electronics and electrical sciences and has occupied his current position at the hospital since 2010. Mr. Abbas manages all aspects of the operation and maintenance of hospital equipment, and is responsible for planning and record-keeping.

The Republic of Lebanon faces complex socioeconomic challenges as it works to reconstruct its wartorn financial and physical infrastructure, restore its social fabric, and protect people’s lives and livelihoods from the increasing risks posed by climate change. In the aftermath of civil war in the 1990’s, Lebanon has not upgraded its electrical infrastructure, and large discrepancies exist between supply and demand. This causes acute and chronic power shortages, sometimes resulting in 12-hour long blackouts, especially in remote areas.

The GEF-financed Solar Water Heaters project described by Mr Abbas, was initiated in 2009 by UNDP to assist the Government of Lebanon in taking the first step to increase capacity for the installation of solar water heaters, and to provide financial mechanisms to promote the uptake of this technology at the national level. This has been followed by a series of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects funded by the GEF and other partners – known by the acronym CEDRO – to develop and implement a fully-fledged sustainable energy strategy and build capacity for a low-emissions development pathway to address socio-economic issues and mitigate the causes of climate change. The CEDRO project has implemented larger-scale thermal solar systems in Saïda Hospital as well as in public institutions across the country including other hospitals, army facilities (barracks), orphanages and other public buildings. 

This story was originally published in "Voices of Impact: Speaking for the Global Commons" by UNDP in 2016.