Yerevan is called a sunny city, above all for the intensity of the sunlight. The average duration of sunshine in the city is about 2700 hours per year. The urban planning of the city is ‘sunny’ too; the architect Aleksandr Tamanyan designed the city in the shape of a sun, with ‘rays’ spreading from the very heart of it.
But in the future, Yerevan can also justify its name for other reasons. The population can produce solar energy not only for their own needs, but generally for the country too.
The American University of Armenia (AUA) has been exploring possibilities of processing solar energy into electricity for over 20 years. Monitoring stations installed in 1995 on the roof of the AUA building in Yerevan, convey information about the solar flux every 15 minutes.
According to the vice-director of Engineering Research Center of AUA Artak Hambaryan, it measures the density of the solar flux per square metre for a given location. This way the effectiveness of the investment and the the buyback will can be assessed.
Today, Armenia is exporting electricity to neighboring countries (Georgia, Iran), though it faced an energy crisis in the 1990s.
According to the Armenia Renewable Resources and Energy Efficiency fund director Tamara Babayan, the Armenian energy sector is quite diversified; atomic, hydro and heating energy separately produce almost one-third of all the yields. Almost 9% is renewable energy, including small HPPs.
According to the another statistics by the Public Service Regulatory Commission of Armenia, the volume of energy directly produced from the renewable resources of energy in the last decade increased by 18 times.
This is because of fixed electricity pricing. Also people who invested into renewable energy were given a guarantee to sell their product during the first 20 years of production. The management and licensing of energy companies were simplified too "- said Babayan.
Yerevan, the capital, consumes half of the electricity in Armenia.
However, the growth rate of electricity consumption per capita in the region is much higher than in Yerevan. So, in Yerevan for 2003-2011, if the growth rate averaged around 1.6%, then in the regions it was approx. 5.9%.
For developing solar energy, Gegharkunik, Syunik and Shirak regions have even more potential. The highlands, with the discharged air and relatively low temperature, have the most favorable conditions for the maximum exploitation of solar power.
“Yerevan is inferior in this respect, although there are some areas of the capital, where the efficiency of obtaining energy from the sun is high,” says Babayan.
But that does not mean that Yerevan is useless for producing energy from sunlight.
“If solar panels are installed on the slopes of Mount Aragats, at an altitude of 3000 m, the effectiveness, of course, will be higher, but the difference can be around 15%. And this does not mean, that in Yerevan this energy sector has no perspective. For example, in Germany the flux rate of solar energy is lower by 30% than in Yerevan, but this does not prevent it (Germany) from being a leader in this area," says Artak Hambaryan.
However, both experts think that instead of constructing big solar stations, the state must support private users of solar panels in Yerevan.
“First of all this is effective and secondly, from the point of view of infrastructure and outside appearance of capital city- an asbestos roof, for example, can be replaced with the tiles - solar cell panels,” says Hambaryan. This will also allow one to save money on investments on solar stations, which may be useless.
The Net Metering system, which is widespread in many developed countries, can enhance the development of the solar energy sector. For example, you install the solar panels, which are connected to a specific energy company. And in gloomy days, when the solar station is not producing enough electricity, you can get it from the company. And vise-versa, if you can’t spend the all energy that your solar panel produces, then it transfers to the company. In this way an exchange of electricity is taking place, and if, at the end of the year the balance between electricity consumption and production will be the same, you do not have to pay for electricity at all. The only investment would be to buy the solar panels.
Nowadays the absence of tax benefits and the imperfections in the Armenian legislation hinders the development of this sector. Overall, Hambaryan thinks that this process needs time, and eventually Armenia too will implement this system.
One of the biggest solar panel systems is installed on the yard of private school “Avetisyan”s in Yerevan. It was opened last year but had already got the label “green.” Here the 290 pupils and the 42 teachers of the kindergarten not only get knowledge, but also environmental education.
According to the principal Melanya Geghamyan, the system consists of 54 solar panels and lets them save up to 40% of the electricity bill. One can even see this by examining the data on the monitor installed in the foyer of the school.
“It is 10 am and the water is heated to up to 20 degrees Celsius,” says Geghamyan, adding that on the monitor it also shows, that they saved $20. And the previous month they saved an amount of $678 because of hot water, lighting and electricity provided from solar energy.
Both the whole school and system of photovoltaic panels are built by the sponsors - an Armenian family Avetisyan from the US. Ordinary schools cannot afford themselves to use these technologies. But this is just a matter of time, thinks the director of “Avetisyan” school.
"Given the steady rise in prices of gas and electricity, the system is beneficial. It not only pays for itself, but also helps to save money in the future " says Geghamyan.
“Solar energy is developing by leaps and bounds, it has huge potential for development. This is exactly the sphere, where the Armenian economy should invest. This is also interesting from ascientific point of view.