On November 8, some 4.5 million Lebanese residents received a strange alert on their mobile phones. The message was a text from the Ministry of Economy which read “Generator owner refuses to install a meter? Inform the Ministry of Economy on the hotline, 1739.” One month prior, the Ministry and energy providers were engulfed in a spat about the cost of residential energy bills. The government asked providers to bill clients based on their actual consumption, instead of using a flat fee. Providers pushed back and threatened to shut down the country’s generators, claiming a massive loss of profits if they implemented the new proposal.
This latest crisis underscores the daily power cuts Lebanese citizens have been forced to endure since the country’s civil war in 1975. Much of the country’s energy infrastructure is outdated, bad for the environment, and unable to satisfy demand. Heavily dependent on oil, Lebanon relies entirely on imports for fuel energy, with consumption only increasing. Government subsidies for electricity will cost the treasury $2 billion in 2018, the equivalent to 4% of the country’s GDP.
While the government has resorted to stopgap solutions to quell both providers and citizens, more viable solutions to the crisis exist. With more than 300 sunny days a year, the Lebanese climate is well-suited for solar and renewable energy. If the government and providers are able to move past politics, Lebanon could begin to solve its energy shortage by investing more in green technology and moving away from dependence on imported gas and oil.
On November 6, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced a new renewable energy target for the year 2030. Reported at a meeting with World Energy Council Secretary-General Christoph Frei, Hariri’s plan calls for 30% of the nation’s electricity and heat to be sourced from renewable energy. The number is a significant increase from the 12% renewable energy target for 2020.
Various institutions, domestic and foreign, are also trying to help Lebanon transition to a green energy system. On November 9, various institutions earmarked $200 million for green projects in the country. $90 million will be made available by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD); $10 million from the Taiwan International Cooperation and Development Fund; and the remaining $100 million from Bank Audi, Lebanon’s largest bank.
Lebanese solar energy companies, like ME green, are working to install small and medium-scale renewable energy systems throughout the country, including solar panels, wind turbines, and water heaters. These efforts have received financing from the United Nations Development Program, Lebanese banks, and other non-profits. The company also educates Lebanese people about environmental sustainability and renewable energy, giving citizens an opportunity to learn about energy alternatives and push for government support for these initiatives.
The blueprint for Lebanon to move toward a sustainable energy future exists. If the government and providers are able to put aside their differences for the greater good, the country could become a leader in green energy in the Middle East.