BEIRUT: The Energy sector in Lebanon has been facing many challenges over the years. The outbreak of the Civil War from 1975 until 1990 caused the electricity sector in the country to lag behind global and regional electricity trends, due to the destruction and damage of the electricity infrastructure, as well as the impairment of managerial, operational, technical and financial capacities of the state-owned Electricite Du Liban (EDL).
During this time, illegal links and connections to the electricity networks were facilitated as well as fraud and theft, such as manipulating the meters. Illegal connections cause great mechanical and technical damages to the grid and cause additional maintenance and repair costs.
These practices have thus weakened the financial abilities of the electricity supplier and the government and persisted even after the end of the war and, unfortunately, they’re still present until today.
Following the end of the Civil War, a restoration plan was launched in order to improve the transmission and supply networks and to expand the generating capacity. Nevertheless, this strategy proved to be ineffective as the electricity supply did not meet the demand.
The government was neither proactive nor innovative; instead, it followed the same old patterns for electricity production, relying on petroleum. Moreover, it didn’t take into account the population growth and the continuous increase for energy demand over the years. It also didn’t take into account the financial consequences that could rise from the increase of fuel price. Along with that, corruption and political instabilities remained present, hindering the energy sector from developing.
Lebanon’s electricity system was also affected by the outbreak of the Civil War in Syria in 2011. First, the inflow of Syrian refugees to the country amplified demand for electricity, as the country welcomed over 1.5 million immigrants. Second, a study done by the UN and the Government in 2017 shows that “at least 45 percent of electrical connections done by Syrian households to the grid are done in an illegal manner.”
Technical challenges and barriers have also stood in the way of improving the situation of the energy sector in Lebanon. A major challenge is having to deal with technical damages and losses caused by illegal connections to the grid, which causes a fall in the generation capacity to almost 50 percent.
Old power plants have also limited the efficiency of electricity production in Lebanon. Most of the electricity power plants in Lebanon are between 25 to 45 years old and some are even older. The problem with aged power plants is that they require more maintenance and lead to a decrease in capacity output in comparison to the initial design capacity. A Lack of maintenance and technical supervision accentuates the problem and has resulted in limited plant efficiency.
Some plants – the Beddawi and Zahrani power plants – were constructed and equipped with “combined cycle gas turbines,” initially planned and designed to best function using natural gas, thus reaching greater efficiencies than “open-cycle gas turbine.” However, due to the lack of natural gas supply, these energy plants are running on gas oil which reduces the efficiency of the operation and lead to a lower output than expected.
Even when the installed plants are operated in full capacity, generating approximately 2700 MW, the supply is not enough to cover the demand at peak time. Furthermore, due to the aging of the power plants, as well as the technical losses in the transmission and distribution networks, the gap grows even bigger between the demand and the supply, leaving citizens with almost 1300-1500 MW power shortage.
The failure of the Lebanese government to re-organize the electricity sector is leading to deficits on the public budget. These losses are the results of technical challenges as well as weak organizational and operational administration and frameworks.
EDL is being greatly subsidized and has been increasingly costing the country reaching 25% of its annual state budget. This has resulted in the decrease of government expenditure on other fundamental matters such as social security, infrastructure, education, health and other social and economic development projects
Corruption has played a great role in weakening the electricity system, which has caused people to lose trust in the government, and as a matter of expediency, to rely on privately owned diesel generators.
Private electricity providers have become an integrated part of the grid, which led President Michel Aoun to make a decision recently, requiring generator owners to install meters. The situation highlights the problem, as in an ideal system, private diesel generators shouldn’t be an alternative energy resource as they pollute the environment.
Noting also, it’s a privately owned parallel network to what was supposed to be a working state-system.
The electricity deficit should shift to renewable, rather than fuel-based options. A new mindset is needed instead of relying on petroleum for electricity production.
Despite high electricity rates, the awareness to rethink and reduce the energy consumption at a household level is weak. Adding to that, the consciousness toward the reliance and the use of renewable energy among industries, as well as households, is still underdeveloped.
The portion of renewables in gross energy consumption is marginal compared to the reliance on fuels; as fuel-based sources constitute a great percentage of electricity consumption, while hydraulic sources cover a marginal share.
The challenges in the energy sector in Lebanon expand on various scales, as the problem starts on a country level with political instabilities, corruption, weak and inefficient electricity production and main reliance on fuel-based electricity.
The issue drags on regional level with technical losses during the transmission phase. Furthermore, the problem is also at a community level, as not all distributions are legal, and illegal connections to the grid are still common and causing damages to the network; and lastly, unsustainable consumption pattern is observed at a household level due to the lack of awareness and consciousness.
The results are obvious in the daily blackouts, which are so expected at certain times, to the point where Lebanese citizens can set their phone to alert at certain hours of the day.
Reem Khamis holds a masters in Environmental and Energy Management at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. Her thesis was an emphasis on urban resilience and climate change adaptation in megacities. Reem is currently undergoing her PhD studies in Environmental and Energy Solutions at the University of Pau and Pays de L'Adour in France focusing on climate change adaptation in medium-sized European cities.
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