22 July, 2024
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Lebanon’s Challenges in Adopting Renewable Energy

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Energy plays a pivotal role in modern economics by providing opportunities for new and existing investments and innovations. The various energy uses contribute to economic growth and social well-being by creating more job chances. These roles make energy availability a condition for human life development and progress. Achieving these roles will be possible when they are available from sustainable, clean sources that contribute to protecting the environment and reducing climate change.

Renewable and clean energy has proven successful in producing electricity in many countries. The share of this energy has increased in the energy mix and expanded from hydropower to wind movement, sunlight, bioenergy, and others. Technological progress in the photovoltaic cell industry has contributed to this expansion. Wind power and biomass technologies have also witnessed remarkable improvement in the last two decades, giving electricity production from renewable energy a great impetus.

An International Renewable Energy Agency report shows that investing in renewable energy sources is cost-effective and contributes to economic growth, job creation, and sustainable development goals. The report projects that 90% of worldwide electricity will be produced from clean and renewable energy by 2050, especially since their resources are available in all countries. An American study notes that the renewable electricity produced in the USA will be the most affordable in the world by 2029.

While renewable energy’s potential is immense, it’s essential to acknowledge its challenges. Each renewable resource has advantages and conditions for use and development. Hydroelectric plants cannot be established except on riverbeds and at high-altitude waterfalls, and wind energy farms must be established in areas with high-speed wind. Solar energy is no less demanding due to its need for giant regions far from shadows and their causes.

It should be noted that resorting to renewable energy was not driven solely by the risks of depleting traditional sources. Environmental concerns and the dangers of climate change due to the polluting emissions caused by fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) formed an additional incentive.

Renewable energy was added to the existing energy mix and does not constitute an independent energy source from other traditional sources. The goal of the energy transition was to increase the degree of energy security provided by the diversity of its sources by reducing dependency on fossil fuels and confronting unexpected fluctuations in their prices.

The Lebanese resort to renewable energy has resulted from the dramatic decline in electricity provided by Électricité Du Liban (EDL), which reached a complete blackout in April 2022 before resuming production. Conversely, the investment in solar energy was not in government pledge implementation that the share of clean and renewable energy would reach 12% of the total energy produced in 2020 and 30% in 2030. Indeed, none of these pledges were fulfilled by the government.

Although Lebanon’s electricity production from renewable sources, especially solar energy, has reached about 1500 megawatts (MW), most of it was done by individual initiatives without any role of the government. This production is spread over small, separated units with no more than 10,000 watts, and only a small percentage of solar electricity is produced through bigger stations. Those stations were for enterprises (industrial or service) or development projects in Lebanese towns and villages, such as drinking water pumps and landline telephone dispensers.

Consumers, individuals, and enterprises have shifted towards setting up units to produce their electricity needs according to various standards. Most of these standards and specifications are different from those of EDLs. Due to non-compliance with standards, only a tiny percentage of the electricity produced by these units can be connected to the public net.

For the electricity produced by private solar units to be considered an added national capability, a national plan must be developed to integrate these units into the national electricity production framework.

In Lebanon, investment in renewable energy, especially solar power, faces many challenges that must be addressed to increase electricity production from these sources and their productivity and spread their benefits. Challenges ranged from issues related to renewable energy specificity to other difficulties concerning the relationship between conventional and renewable energy. The most significant issue concerning conventional energy can be summarized as follows:

–  Assuring the stability of the network and preventing its collapse requires that the electricity capacity on the networks be at least 800 megawatts (MW).

–  Connecting renewable energy units that produce electricity to the public networks requires electricity availability on this network around the clock (24/24).

–  This connection is expensive due to the need for specific equipment and tools to ensure security and safety.

–  Connection requires accelerating the National Control Center (NCC) of electricity network rehabilitation to achieve the desired result.

–   Any increase in electricity capacity on the network must be accompanied by the development of transmission and distribution networks, mainly medium and low-voltage lines.

–  The necessity of forming the energy sector regulatory body, which has exclusive responsibilities specified in Law 462/2002 and Law 318/2023, indicates that those responsible for the sector comply with the applicable laws.

Meanwhile, challenges associated with the specificity of renewable energy from its various sources include the following:

–  Renewable energy sources are intermittent and unstable, highly susceptible to natural factors and seasonal fluctuation.

–   Producing electricity from wind power requires implementing the wind farm in an area where the wind speed is at least 65 meters per second.

–  Solar energy units that produce electricity need large areas with intense sunlight.

–  Storing excess energy from renewable sources for later use increases the primary investment cost.

–  The necessity of integrating renewable energy projects from different sources makes the process complex and expensive.

–  The absence of local finance threatens renewable energy projects from monopolizing by foreign companies (CMA CGM, TotalEnergies, Qatar Energy), especially the 11 licenses approved by the caretaker government of Energy in May 2022.  

The most prominent challenges facing investment in renewable energy are the state’s disruption and the disappearance of its role and authority. Meanwhile, the vacuum persists in the Republic’s presidency and the presence of a caretaker government.

Solving the crisis in which the nation is floundering requires the return of state institutions and administrations to their responsibilities in diagnosing problems, proposing solutions, and implementing them within a comprehensive national vision.

Based on a national level, the Lebanese electricity crisis solution requires integrating the state efforts with individual initiatives to make electricity available to all Lebanese, not just those with the means.

It is no longer permissible to wait until the situation is settled to prepare studies and adopt plans to address crises, especially electricity crises. Being late to catch up with the accelerating progress increases the cost of addressing crises and makes it more difficult.

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