18 Oct 2018
Amman, Jordan
Renewable energy and energy efficiency

While some Middle Eastern countries are awash with energy resources, Jordan most definitely is not. Unlike their neighbors, Jordanians do not have access to vast oil and gas reserves, or even sufficient water to generate mass hydroelectricity. But Jordan does have plentiful sunlight, which has motivated local renewable energy company Be Solar to install solar panels on rooftops across the country since 2013.

Be Solar has worked across a range of buildings and facilities, from rundown gas stations to an ambitious mega-project for a local university. Moving forward, the company must compete with market rivals that provide lower quality services at cheaper rates. Beyond business, Be Solar’s owners advocate a large-scale charitable project to bring solar power to poorer communities.

Jordan boasts an eye-catching solar panel installation in perhaps the most ironic of locations — above a gas station in central Amman. “This project was our most impressive in terms of architectural beauty,” says Hamzeh Buqaei, founder of Be Solar, the local company responsible for this solar panel — and hundreds more — across Jordan.

At the gas station, Buqaei’s team furnished the rooftop with a sleek, one-piece solar panel. The solar energy generated slashed the building’s power bill, but it was the striking, modern look that turned heads. “Many people know about Be Solar, or are referred to us, due to this iconic project,” Buqaei says.

Symbolically, the gas station project adverts to a time when renewable energy will replace fossil fuels. For Jordan, a country bereft of oil reserves, that greener future cannot come soon enough. At present, Jordan meets demand for power with imported natural gas, which accounts for 93% of the country’s energy mix. This actually constitutes an improvement since 2014, when energy imports reached almost 97% and chewed up more than 40% of the national budget.

Jordan does have one powerful energy card to play — it receives more than 300 days of strong sunlight per year. “We do not have many [other] resources, so it was a natural selection for us to go for solar,” Buqaei says. Be Solar has helped this vital switch since 2013, finding solar energy solutions for households, commercial buildings, mosques and more.

Buqaei has two key aims moving forward — bringing much needed renewable energy solutions to poorer communities, while defending Be Solar’s market position amid the rise of cheaper competitors.

Family affair:

Earlier this decade, Buqaei was working in Switzerland as a renewable energy engineer when he reflected on his homeland’s puzzling response to its national energy crisis. Despite Jordan’s location in the sundrenched “solar belt,” he recalls that “solar energy was virtually non-existent [in Jordan] at the time.”

Buqaei returned from Europe and founded Be Solar five years ago, enlisting his brothers and cousins as business partners. From the outset, the family company strove to distinguish itself by providing well-made solar infrastructure. “Our selling point is that — if clients buy high quality [solar units] — they do not need to worry about [maintenance] for another 15, if not 25 years,” says Buqaei. To achieve this standard, Buqaei relied on contacts with German manufacturers formed during his career in Europe. Yet business proved slow for several months, as many Jordanians still came to grips with the growing importance of solar power.

Eventually Be Solar won installation contracts for 20 to 30 residential homes, focusing on households that were spending between US$140 and $700 on their monthly power bills. Be Solar’s residential solar units costs around US$3,500 to $4,200 to install, but do away with power bills altogether upon connection.

Be Solar built momentum from its foray into the residential market. “This is when our profile started to expand,” says Buqaei. Be Solar has since worked on commercial and public projects ranging from the Kayyali Center, a prominent diamond-selling complex, to Amman’s venerable Al Husseini Mosque.

Competitive heat:

Demand for solar energy has increased dramatically in Jordan since 2013, and so too has the level of market competition. Rivals have emerged offering bargain rates that Be Solar cannot match, given the company’s insistence on using high-end solar equipment.

To an extent, Buqaei understands why potential clients would opt for a cheaper quote. “Due to the financial situation in Jordan, many buyers have liquidity problems,” he says.  Buqaei adds, however, that this decision can quickly turn into a false economy. Cheaper equipment tends to require costly, ongoing maintenance, and Buqaei warns that not all Jordanian technicians are appropriately certified. By contrast, Be Solar’s units are professionally installed and built to last for at least 15 years.

Be Solar has still managed to win lucrative tenders with its assurances of premium service. Amman’s Middle East University commissioned Be Solar to install an enormous, one megawatt solar project over 2,000 square meters. “We were chosen because we offer state-of-the-art technology,” he says.

Powering the unempowered:

There is a potential upside to increased competition in the local solar energy market — helping low-income communities. Buqaei proudly recalls Be Solar’s handling of a government scheme that brought solar panels to rural homes. “On a human level, this was our most successful project.”

Buqaei does not want his sector to stop there. “Solar energy is now really viable in Jordan, and there are lots of products and companies that can assist these [low-income] communities.” With a little funding — from the government, an incubator or an international donor — such initiatives could alleviate the burden of electricity bills from struggling areas.

Buqaei, for one, is happy to lend his services to these projects. He has enjoyed an impressive career in Europe, but still has unfinished work in his homeland. “[Charitable solar] projects are payback to the community after my success in business,” he smiles.

 

Learn more about Be Solar through its website and Facebook.

Photos courtesy of Be Solar

Since getting his MA in Middle Eastern Studies last year, David has worked as a freelance journalist based in Accra, Ghana, and Cairo, Egypt.David Wood
Power to the people: Local company helps Jordan switch to solar energy | The Switchers
Be Solar Renewable energy and energy efficiency
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