Starved of electricity, Syrians turn to solar power
Facing crippling electricity cuts, Syrian dentist Ibrahim al-Akzam has turned to solar power to keep his Damascus clinic going, a reflection of the deep energy crisis in his country after 11 years of war.
The move has shielded Akzam from the rolling blackouts of the dilapidated state grid and the rising cost of scarce quantities of diesel to operate a smaller private generator.
"Moving to alternative energy is the best solution at present," said the 41-year-old, who spent nearly $7,000 on the installation.
That makes him one of the lucky ones. Those still relying on the public grid or private generators have been hit particularly hard in recent weeks as severe fuel shortages forced the state to ration fuel distribution, telecoms towers to cut network access and public institutions to shorten their work weeks.
Syria's state infrastructure has been devastated by the war, which spiralled out of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 and has since killed more than 350,000 people, according to the United Nations.
The power crisis has been further compounded by a wider economic collapse triggered by the conflict, Western sanctions, a currency meltdown and the government's loss of its northeastern oil-producing territories.
A government report published last year said the war had inflicted 6.1 billion Syrian pounds ($2 billion) of direct and indirect damage on a power grid that once covered 99% of Syria.
The state has sought to encourage more investment in renewable power, introducing incentives that include eliminating customs on imports of equipment needed to produce it.
Visiting a solar generation project in September, Assad said the state remained focused on traditional forms of power generation but voiced support for private sector investment in solar and wind generation, the state news agency SANA reported.
He added that the state could act as a partner by buying electricity and selling it on to consumers.
Drop in the ocean
The following month, Assad issued an amendment to an electricity law aimed at encouraging private sector investment in both traditional and renewable energy by allowing producers to sell power directly to consumers for the first time.
Madian Diyar, head of the Syrian investment authority, said licences had so far been granted for five renewable energy projects, which would produce 200 megawatt hours.
That remains a drop in the ocean compared with the 49 billion kilowatt hours of electricity produced by Syria before the war, according to the government report.
Baraa Sheira, from the central province of Hama, is one of the entrepreneurs who won a license to set up a solar farm.
Output from his 1-megawatt plant, built in 2020 at a cost of around $800,000, is sold to the state grid. Sheira declined to disclose the price at which he was selling.
"We're producing one now, but we could produce 10 or 20" - if it were not for some major obstacles, Sheira said.
Sanctions made equipment hard to import and the Syrian pound's collapse - plus the yawning gap between the official and black market exchange rates - put off would-be investors.
Sheira suggested the state set up a "preferential price" for solar-generated power to compensate for the higher cost of equipment and encourage more investors.
"Today, when we want to rebuild the country and the economy of the country, we want to start with electricity," he said.
Reporting by Reuters