Lebanese authorities’ persistent failure to meet the country’s energy needs has been a central symbol of state corruption and mismanagement. Since the civil war, Électricité du Liban has burned through public funds to secure barely enough fuel to keep the network operational – a financial burden that has become untenable during Lebanon’s ongoing financial crisis. Even during a global pandemic, Lebanon made global headlines with the nation’s parlous electricity network, forcing closures of essential services including water pumps and hospital life-support systems.
Regulatory hurdles and political manipulation have prevented much-needed technical reforms and expanded renewable energy production, which would make electricity production more reliable and less expensive. Instead, the government has tolerated only the stop-gap solution of private diesel generators to supplement EDL’s poor coverage – meaning Lebanese households pay additional, inflated power bills for the heavily polluting and inequitable diesel generators.
Many technical reports have clearly set out Lebanon’s best pathway out of this quagmire: renewable energy. Lebanon enjoys considerable potential to develop renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydro power, and the legislative and financial reforms required to open the way for rapid renewable energy expansion are well known. Yet, in 2018, renewable energy output accounted for less than 3% of total electricity generation. Least-cost modeling has identified a target of 40% of renewable energy as a feasible goal to be achieved within a decade. This would replace nearly all diesel generators with renewable energy.
While Lebanon requires nothing short of a comprehensive overhaul of EDL’s national grid, there are options for immediate action. With government support, communities can begin supplementing their energy needs from renewable energy through ‘micro-grids’ that already exist outside EDL’s system – allowing communities to receive myriad benefits, such as better air quality, more reliable coverage, cost savings, and enhanced community ownership of key infrastructure and intra-communal trust.