31 Jan 2018
Beirut, Lebanon
Renewable energy and energy efficiency

While Lebanon has been creating its own national plan to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), one entrepreneur from that country has been touring the world to find his own solutions. Established in 2013, FREE S.A.L has strongly positioned itself to cater for the evolution of energy solutions.

At its founding, Antoine Skayem had recently returned home from India, where he learned how to install photovoltaic systems. Back in Lebanon, he started his company, FREE S.A.L, where “FREE” stands for Free Renewable Electric Energy. “Bit by bit, we became experts in the field, and last year we got acquired by two angel investors in Lebanon,” Skayem says.

Skayem has a background in mechanical engineering, and did his master’s in industrial engineering. He also holds a certification from the Renewable Energy Academy of Berlin, combining his engineering experience with his long-standing passion for sustainability.

FREE S.A.L’s line of business:

The five-year-old company works in a number of fields, addressing a variety of challenges faced in Lebanon: “Our multidisciplinary team specialize in customizing solutions in energy and resource management,” Skayem explains. “We also work on food energy and water nexus. Sometimes we take huge land lots that are not making money in agriculture, then we work on this holistic approach, investigating the agricultural, energy, and water plans, for our disciplinary team to optimize these plans and customize solutions for energy, food, and water.”

Skayem did not invent such demands Lebanon has long faced a gap between energy supply and an ever-growing demand. Following the end of the Civil War in the early 1990s, Lebanon’s consumption grew at a staggering pace of 7% per year.

“We saw an opportunity when the Central Bank of Lebanon introduced a soft loan for green projects,” Skayem says. “That loan enabled us to offer our solutions in terms of energy consulting and energy solutions, at highly discounted rates.”

Skayem adds that the Lebanese government — along with the Central Bank of Lebanon and the Ministry of Energy and Water — were the main bodies supporting green projects and creating the infrastructure for such market. “There are three main parameters that help create such a market: readiness of the grid, the availability of financing incentives, and the public awareness,” Skayem notes, emphasizing that the government has been diligently spreading awareness. “We have net metering here which allows people to give back to the grid and the government would deduct it from their bills,” Skayem added.

While the government is working towards empowering certain businesses, tax increase is a reality FREE S.A.L has to face. “The increase targeted SMEs rather than big enterprises, which directly affects the purchasing power of the people,” Skayem explains. “SMEs are the ones creating jobs in Lebanon, and that affects growth.”

Some say businesses like FREE S.A.L should get differential treatment from the government. “As a supplier of green and environmental friendly solutions, FREE S.A.L should be granted more deductions in taxes and be granted more financial facilities and subsidy in order to encourage more people to invest in renewable energy,” says Elia Ghorra, Manager of Domaine de Taanayel, one of Arcenciel’s centers in Taanayel (Arcenciel is a sustainable development NGO based in Lebanon).

Where the demand lies, there is FREE S.A.L:

Between the public and the private sector, Skayem says the latter is more active. “We are already in the process of expanding abroad,” he added.

Amongst the company’s clients are the Golf Club of Lebanon. “FREE S.A.L proved to be a great partner for the Golf Club of Lebanon. They have helped us understand how to optimize our resources and reduce our [energy] consumption,” says Karim Salaam, President of the Lebanese Golf Federation.

“I believe that FREE S.A.L need help in creating a more aware community on the importance of their services,” notes Salaam. “The work they do is crucial to any facility or industry. I believe they have the right team and resources to scale up. They just need the suitable platform and means to ensure decent projects abroad.”

As for Ghorra, FREE S.A.L  introduced him to several new techniques and technologies. “They were always eager to provide us with the best available solutions, and sometimes customize others to our demands. Our relationship with them was quickly shifted from supplier-client to friends and trusted partners,” Ghorra added

Akin to partnering locally and internationally, FREE S.A.L is globally acknowledged and celebrated. The company recently won the 2017 Johnnie Walker Prize. It also won third prize in the MIT Pan Arab Competition in Bahrain, as well as the first prize in the Digital Energy Revolution Challenge by Berytech, amongst others.

Harboring innovative new solutions and the potential to grow, Skayem is working on developing FREE S.A.L’s own branded solutions — their main differentiating factor in a world of conformity.

 

Find the company through their website.

Images: Courtesy of FREE S.A.L.

Eman is the Switchers' Managing Editor and a long-standing finance and startup ecosystem journalist.Eman El-Sherbiny
This Lebanese company develops branded energy solutions in a world of conformity | The Switchers
FREE S.A.L Renewable energy and energy effiency
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