BEIRUT: As a country with lots of sunshine on the one hand and frequent power cuts on the other, the use of solar energy in Lebanon makes a lot of sense. And yet, construction companies and private owners have been reluctant to invest in solar cells for private homes or office buildings, and fuel remains the main source of energy for heating and cooling buildings and for heating water.
However, with the current oil crisis and high fuel prices, engineers, developers and architects may think twice about solar energy devices in buildings. The last day of a series of lectures focusing on buildings and energy was held on Tuesday in the Order of Engineers and Architects in Beirut. Lecturers from Germany and Lebanon were invited by the Goethe Institute to explore opportunities to use energy more efficiently in buildings and building design.
Matthias Schuler, an engineer from Stuttgart, Germany, and a visiting professor at Harvard University, said that using solar energy devices and better-insulated buildings would pay off after only eight to 10 years.
Schuler owns a climate engineering company in Stuttgart, which specializes in environmentally intelligent solutions for low-energy buildings, for both small buildings and large ones like exhibition halls, high-rises and airports.
Schuler said that due to the oil crisis in the 1970s, German industry met high energy costs with intelligent solutions for saving energy. In a decade, industry's energy consumption had dropped by 50 percent. For private homes, trade and commerce, this was not the case. This sector consumes a total of 46 percent of Germany's energy supply.
"In the seventies, people thought industry was the biggest consumer of energy. But taking these figures, you can see that the biggest energy consumers are private homes, offices and commerce," said Schuler.
After the oil crisis in the 1970s, Germany also developed a detailed law that regulated energy-saving measures in buildings. According to German building law, plans for houses and buildings have to include certain measures to render buildings more energy efficient. Without these measures, the developer could not obtain a construction permit. These measures include insulation for walls, ceilings and roofs, as well as double glazed windows.
There are no laws similar to that in Lebanon. However, the Urban Planning Directorate is working to develop guidelines for energy efficiency. If a law existed, it would probably not be respected, unless the builders knew that such measures were profitable.
"The price of energy in Lebanon is very high," said Fadi Moucharrafie, a lecturer at the American University of Beirut (AUB). "We have to make it clear that insulation and solar collectors have positive long-term effects."
During Tuesday's lecture, Schuler explained that building law in the United States was closely related to business: "Developers found out that low-energy buildings are cheaper to run, thus they are easier to sell or rent," something that could also be valuable to Lebanese developers.
"In Lebanon, we have to work on the mentality of the users," said Moucharrafie, adding that raising awareness of the positive effects of energy-saving techniques, from an environmental and commercial point of view, is still necessary. "I think that in Lebanon, we need an experimental phase of a couple of years, which includes engineers and controllers, to convince them that this strategy is worthwhile. Then, we can develop a law."
Schuler could set the pace with his involvement in a project at AUB, which will be realized shortly. For the university, the engineer developed an entire sports complex based on the principles of energy conservation in buildings.
The sports center will be located next to the Manara Corniche, allowing the breeze coming from the ocean to pass through. Fresh air will be guided into the buildings at the levels where people are active. Plastic pipes in the ceiling will be filled with sea water to regulate the indoor climate. 400 square meters of solar cells will also be used to heat the water of the indoor swimming pool.