Lebanon turns to solar power as energy crisis deepens

Considering lebanon’s long history of power outages, it is perhaps surprising that many lebanese are only now beginning to view solar power as an ideal solution to their energy issues. (Social media)
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Updated 18 June 2022

Lebanon turns to solar power as energy crisis deepens

  • Lebanon has been regularly plunged into darkness recently because of skyrocketing fuel prices resulting from the increase in the dollar exchange rate

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s economic collapse means that the Lebanese people are now responsible for sourcing their own electricity for most of the day, every day. Many of them are now turning to solar power — previously seen as a luxury — as a solution.

Lebanese citizens do, at least, have some experience with securing their own power: For the past 40 years, the country’s patchy electricity supply has meant that 24-hour power was almost impossible to come by, so the majority of Lebanese are familiar with having to use private generators to access electricity during the country’s frequent power cuts.

Plans on which billions of dollars were spent were largely ruined by political disputes and, despite the warnings of the international community, the Ministry of Energy took no action to rectify the situation.

According to Bassam Mawlawi, minister of interior in Lebanon’s caretaker government, the ministry had to pay $160,000 to secure electricity for the parliamentary elections that took place last month.

Lebanon has been regularly plunged into darkness recently because of skyrocketing fuel prices resulting from the increase in the dollar exchange rate. The situation was exacerbated when the Lebanese state began to remove fuel subsidies and international fuel prices rose because of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Along with an increase in network failures, infrastructure theft has only made things worse.

Considering Lebanon’s long history of power outages, it is perhaps surprising that many Lebanese are only now beginning to view solar power as an ideal solution to their energy issues.

Travel around Beirut, the surrounding mountains and the Bekaa valley, and you will now see solar panels on many rooftops and balconies — even though the internal security forces have repeatedly warned against setting up solar panels without an agreement between building residents, in an attempt to limit disputes.

But since solar energy allows people to be self-sufficient and spares them the costs of private generators — the fees for which can be prohibitively expensive since there is no real oversight of the industry — those warnings are falling on deaf ears.

Hassan, a resident in Beirut’s southern suburbs, said, “A private generator subscription of 10 amperes amounts to 9 million Lebanese pounds per month — a figure that only the affluent can afford.”

The output from solar panels varies, starting at five amperes for a one-off payment of between $2,000 and $2,500. The cost rises as the output increases and can reach around $5,000.

Hassan said that, thanks to solar power, he is now able to power his lighting, fridge, fan and washing machine. “However,” he added, “the air conditioner is now part of the home décor, unless the state provides us with half an hour of power.”

Many shops in Beirut are now selling solar-powered fans and lightbulbs for under $100. Ahmad, who owns a shop in Beirut’s Cornish El-Mazraa, said his stock of such items is usually sold within two days, “although the price of one fan reaches $80.”

“The sales volume exceeded all expectations,” he said. “This fan, once fully charged, works for about four hours at medium speed.”

Attorney Saleh Sleiman told Arab News that around 70 percent of the residents in his hometown — Bednayel, in Bekaa — now rely on solar energy. “Some people borrowed money to cover the cost of installing panels. Others used gold as collateral to secure a loan,” he said.

The Housing Bank has launched a ‘solar energy loan,’ ranging from 75 million to 200 million Lebanese pounds, which can be repaid over five years with an interest rate of five percent. Hezbollah has also provided people with loans through the US-sanctioned Al-Qard Al-Hasan Association.

Lebanese banks, however, have so far provided few initiatives to help people during the energy crisis.


Agthia saves $26.4 million in 18 months using cost optimization measures

Updated 19 August 2022

Agthia saves $26.4 million in 18 months using cost optimization measures

  • Group plans to expand into consumer business and have a consumer-centric mix of 75 percent of revenues

DUBAI: Agthia, a food and beverage company based in Abu Dhabi, has saved 97 million dirhams ($26.4 million) in 18 months as part of its Strategy 2025 program.

Alan Smith, CEO of Agthia, told Arab News that the company had committed to saving 200 million dirhams over five years as part of its long-term strategy envisaged in 2021.

“The company saved 97 million dirhams in just 18 months,” said a beaming Smith, adding that the company plans to become a leader in the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan by 2025.

The group plans to expand into consumer business and have a consumer-centric mix of 75 percent of revenues.

Agthia Group CEO Alan Smith. (Supplied)

In July 2022, the company’s board approved the acquisition of a strategic 60 percent stake in Auf Group, a specialized healthy snacks and coffee manufacturer and retailer in Egypt.

Agthia has also received its board’s approval to acquire 60 percent of Egyptian coffee maker Auf Group as it expanded its footprint in the North African country last month.

Growth crossroads

The company acquired five companies in 2021, which included Al Foah Dates in the UAE, Al Faysal Bakery & Sweets in Kuwait, Nabil Foods in Jordan, Atyab in Egypt and BMB, a fully integrated food company in the UAE.

And these acquisitions contributed 73 percent of the total revenue for the six months ending June 30, 2022.

Agthia Group’s net revenue grew 51 percent year on year to 2 billion dirhams in the first half of this year, according to the company’s results.

Smith said that compared to a few years ago, Agthia’s revenue was 2 billion dirhams on a full-year basis.

BACKGROUND

The company saved 97 million dirhams in just 18 months, said Smith, adding that the company plans to become a leader in the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan by 2025.

“I think the number is about 73 percent, so we’re very close to our long-term commitments,” he added.

Due to the seasonality advantages the company sees in the snacking business and the growth in the protein business. Smith said the contribution of the consumer business division to the overall revenue will be at least 75 percent on a full-year basis, if not more.

Before acquiring five companies last year, Agthia’s revenue was split 50-50 between consumers and agribusinesses.

Besides the brands acquired in 2021, the consumer business includes Yoplait dairy products and a slew of water and beverage brands such as Al Ain and Al Bayan. On the other hand, the agribusiness produces Grand Mills flour and Agrivita animal feed.

“What we are seeing in quarter two is the consolidation of all five acquisitions we did last year,” he said.

Optimization opportunity

According to Smith, Agthia generates 50 percent of its revenue from the UAE and the rest from other parts of the world.

The company has also taken cost optimization measures to increase its revenue and improve profitability. For instance, the confectionery and healthy food brand BMB had a manufacturing facility each in Dubai Investment Park and Jebel Ali.

After the acquisition, Agthia closed one of BMB’s facili- ties and consolidate it into an existing Agthia manufacturing facility.

“It was a rented facility that we shut down and moved that production into Agthia’s own facility,” Smith said.

Smith said Agthia’s financial results and Strategic 2025 plan are on track despite market volatility.

Agthia is currently setting up a new manufacturing unit in Saudi Arabia for Nabil Foods, the firm’s protein brand, to meet the growing demand for the product line from local customers. Earlier this year, the company announced the greenfield investment of 90 million dirhams to set up the facility.

According to Smith, the facility’s design is completed, and the scope of work for tendering has been outlined. He is now awaiting necessary approvals for the Saudi manufacturing facility from the competent authority.

With this project, Agthia will be able to increase its footprint in the Kingdom and support its strategy to become one of the most prominent players in the Middle East and North Africa consumer packaged goods market.

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UK’s Liz Truss says defining mission will be reviving the economy

Updated 19 August 2022

UK’s Liz Truss says defining mission will be reviving the economy

LONDON: The frontrunner to be Britain’s next prime minister Liz Truss said her government’s defining mission would be to revive the economy as she set out a series of measures to help parts of northern England.
Britain’s economic performance has lagged behind those of the United States, Italy and France in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. The economy is expected to enter a long downturn at the end of the year amid surging inflation and rising interest rates.
“The defining mission of my government will be to get our economy growing again, cutting taxes to put more money into the pockets of hardworking people,” Truss said.
Outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said reducing regional economic inequality was his main goal. But public spending in the north of England fell behind the national average in the first two years of his government, research by the Institute for Public Policy Research has shown.
Truss said she was committed to the current government’s goal of reducing economic inequalities but would do so in a “Conservative way,” interpreted as meaning a focus on tax cuts and deregulation.
Speaking ahead of election hustings in Manchester in northern England on Friday, Truss pledged to provide more devolution, to ensure poorer areas receive the government funding they need, and to build two new vocational colleges in the north of England that will be “the vocational equivalent of Oxford and Cambridge,” dubbed “Voxbridge.”
Truss has portrayed herself as a radical insurgent who would overturn the current failed orthodoxy and has proposed to reverse more than £30 billion ($36 billion) of tax rises.

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Dubai sees air travel surge, expects World Cup boost

Updated 17 August 2022

Dubai sees air travel surge, expects World Cup boost

  • The airport handled 160 percent more traffic over the past six months compared to the same period last year

DUBAI: Dubai International Airport saw a surge in passengers over the first half of 2022 as pandemic restrictions eased and the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar will further boost traffic to the city-state’s second airfield, its chief executive said Wednesday.

Paul Griffiths, who oversees the world’s busiest airport for international travel, told The Associated Press that the airport handled 160 percent more traffic over the past six months compared to the same period last year, part of an air travel rebound around the world.

The nearly 28 million people who traveled through the airport over the past six months represent some 70 percent of the airport’s pre-pandemic levels, even as Dubai’s key source market of China remains closed due to severe pandemic restrictions. Griffiths said he expects the airport’s traffic to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of next year.

“It’s a very, very welcome surge of traffic,” Griffiths said.

The first World Cup in the Middle East, he added, will send foreign soccer fans flocking to Al-Maktoum International Airport at Dubai World Central, or DWC. From there, they will travel daily to Qatar, a tiny neighbor that faces a hotel squeeze.

“We’ve actually seen a huge demand at DWC for slot filings for airlines wanting to operate a shuttle service,” he said. “I think the city has a lot to offer and a lot to gain from the World Cup.”

Among the airlines buying extra slots to shuttle soccer fans to the tournament from DWC are Qatar Airways, low-cost carrier FlyDubai and budget airline Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, he said.

During the first half of 2022, Dubai International Airport dealt with nearly 56 percent more flights than the same period in 2021, when contagious coronavirus variants clobbered the industry.

Now, in a sign of the health of the industry, Emirates said on Wednesday that it would pour billions of dollars into retrofitting much of its Airbus A380 and Boeing 777 fleet. At the height of the pandemic, the airline received a $4 billion government bailout.


Egypt’s central bank governor resigns as economic woes mount

Updated 17 August 2022

Egypt’s central bank governor resigns as economic woes mount

  • President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi accepted the resignation of Tarek Amer and named him a presidential adviser
  • The currency is under pressure, sliding in value to about 19 Egyptian pounds to the US dollar

CAIRO: Egypt’s central bank governor resigned Wednesday as the Middle East’s most populous nation struggles to curb inflation triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine, high oil prices and a drop in tourism.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi accepted the resignation of Tarek Amer and named him a presidential adviser, the Egyptian leader’s office said in a statement. The brief statement offered no explanation for Amer’s resignation.
No replacement was immediately named for Amer, who had been appointed governor of the central bank in November 2015. He has been criticized for his handling of Egypt’s financial challenges.
The currency is under pressure, sliding in value to about 19 Egyptian pounds to the US dollar. That followed a central bank decision allowing the currency to depreciate by around 16 percent in March to try to stem a growing trade deficit.
“It seems there’s a lot of tensions within policymaking circles, and I think that’s ultimately what led to Mr. Amer’s resignation,” said Jason Tuvey, a senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics.
Tuvey said there are officials that oppose devaluing the pound and instead support measures like rationing gas consumption by curbing electricity usage, which could in turn harm business activity. Amer had traditionally been seen as in the camp that supported the pound’s depreciation as a way to secure a loan from the International Monetary Fund.
The London-based Capital Economics research firm predicts that Egypt’s currency will continue to slide, reaching 25 pounds to the dollar by the end of 2024 amid sustained pressure.
The resignation of the central bank head comes after key ministries were reshuffled Saturday as the government faces mounting pressure from economic challenges. The Cabinet shake-up, which was approved by parliament in an emergency session, affected 13 ministries, including health, education, culture, local development and irrigation. The country’s minister of tourism and antiquities also was replaced.
Egypt’s expansive tourism industry, which employs millions, was hit hard by years of turmoil, the COVID-19 pandemic and then the war in Ukraine. Prior to the conflict, around a third of tourists to Egypt came from Russia.
Russia’s war has been deeply felt in other ways in Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer that sources around 80 percent of it from the Black Sea region.
In the first weeks after the invasion of Ukraine in late February, the price of wheat and other grains skyrocketed, as did the price of fuel. Although prices have come down somewhat, the cost of grains remains at least 50 percent higher than before the pandemic in early 2020. Furthermore, the cost of shipping to export those grains through the Black Sea is high.
Inflation in the country of 103 million people reached 14.6 percent in July, increasing pressure on lower-income households and everyday necessities. Around a third of Egyptians live in poverty, according to government figures.
The World Bank notes that Egypt’s government announced an assistance package worth 130 billion pounds (more than $8 billion) just before devaluing the pound in March to alleviate the impact of rising prices. The package aimed to increase public-sector wages and pensions, as well as expand direct cash assistance programs.
Egypt’s Gulf Arab allies have come to its assistance with multibillion-dollar investments buoyed by high oil prices that have helped their bottom line.
Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, recently established a division in Egypt that has already announced deals worth $1.3 billion with the aim of bringing in $10 billion into Egypt.

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Saudi-Uzbek trade exceeds $95m in the first half of 2022

Updated 17 August 2022

Saudi-Uzbek trade exceeds $95m in the first half of 2022

  • The two countries will bolster ties further with the signing of 12 new deals this week

RIYADH: The mutual trade between Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Uzbekistan reached $95 million in the first half of 2022, a substantial increase considering that bilateral trade barely exceeded $17 million last year.

According to a joint news statement, the value is expected to grow rapidly by the end of 2022. The numbers assume significance in the aftermath of the pandemic.

In fact, the number of Uzbek companies running on Saudi funds increased from about nine to 38 in the last five years. Of the 38, 19 are sole proprietors, and the rest are joint ventures.

The two nations will bolster the ties further by signing 12 new agreements on Wednesday and Thursday when Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev visits the Kingdom.

According to an Uzbek state agency, high-level talks will take place in Jeddah, where the two nations will discuss opportunities to enhance multilateral cooperation further.

The discussion will focus on the green economy, technology and digitalization, innovations, small business and entrepreneurship. 

Following the meeting, new agreements are expected to be signed in the energy, telecommunications, agriculture, chemical and petrochemical industries, besides encouraging ties in culture, sports and education.

The Kingdom has become one of the largest foreign investors in energy infrastructure and one of Uzbekistan’s most significant developers of green energy projects.

ACWA Power’s Uzbek interests

Recently, the Ministry of Energy of Uzbekistan and Saudi energy company ACWA Power signed several investment agreements for about $3 billion.

ACWA Power will develop and operate a wind energy project with a production capacity of 1,500 MW in the Karakalpakstan region of Uzbekistan.

When commissioned, the plant will become the largest of its kind in Central Asia and one of the largest wind power plants in the world. 

FASTFACTS

• The number of Uzbek companies running on Saudi funds increased from about nine to 38 in the last five years.

• Recently, the Ministry of Energy of Uzbekistan and Saudi energy company ACWA Power signed several investment agreements for about $3 billion.

• The Saudi Fund for Development has contributed to the implementation of many projects in Uzbekistan, including funding the Samarkand-Gozar Road project, with a total value of $30 million.

ACWA Power also signed an agreement to establish the 100MW Nokus wind farm project, the first renewable energy project to be implemented in partnership with Uzbekistan’s public and private sectors.

The power generating company also won a $108 million wind contract after proposing a tariff of 2.56 cents per kilowatt-hour, the lowest in Uzbekistan.

Additionally, the Ministry of Energy of Uzbekistan signed a 25-year power purchase agreement with ACWA Power to establish a combined-cycle gas turbine power plant in Shirin, located in Syrdarya, Uzbekistan. The deal amounts to $1.2 billion.

According to the statement, these projects will contribute to achieving Uzbekistan’s national goal of raising the total renewable energy generation capacity to 30 percent by 2030.

Saudi Fund for Development

Moreover, the Saudi Fund for Development has contributed to the implementation of many projects in Uzbekistan, including funding the Samarkand-Gozar Road project, with a total value of $30 million.

The fund also contributed to 20 projects in the republic, including building pumping stations and other projects involving sewage, chemicals, mining, building materials, water and agriculture.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture of Uzbekistan, the Saudi and Uzbek delegations have discussed issues of cooperation in agriculture, including the prospects for enhancing mutual trade in agricultural products.

Both parties will likely sign memorandums of cooperation in agriculture, veterinary medicine and livestock development at the meeting.

They also agreed to deepen cooperation in the agricultural sector to enhance trade in farming, livestock and other products between the countries.

After signing the memoranda, action plans will be prepared, including specific measures and areas for developing cooperation and joint projects.

The Saudi side invited the Uzbekistan delegation to attend its most prominent exhibition of the agro-industrial complex, which will be held at the end of October in Riyadh.