Hopes that the entire country would be powered by renewable energy by Sunday have been disappointed
State electricity returns in Lebanon but still maxes out at two hours in most areas
Lebanon’s electricity grid has slowly but surely recovered from the worst power cuts since 2009 – but the government is still struggling to find an easy way to improve electricity supplies for its population of 4.5 million.
“From 1,000Mw to 900Mw and back up to 900Mw in 15 days … this is the capacity of the grid,” said Lebanese government spokesman Lamia Karameh, in a release to coincide with the weekend.
Karameh added that the supply had been “diminished” since March, after Cyclone Idai caused big cuts when the electricity and gas infrastructure was damaged. But hopes that the entire country would be power-supplied by renewable energy by Sunday had been disappointed.
Lebanon’s power problems have existed for many years, although the last round of serious power cuts in 2018 caused especially big problems for agriculture, a major driver of the economy.
This time last year, the government of the militant group Hezbollah and the internationally-recognised government of Saad Hariri were in conflict over proposed electricity price rises which would have amounted to a huge increase for millions of Lebanese consumers.
Violence over electricity cost-rises led to nationwide industrial strikes and protests that left at least nine people dead. The protests were suppressed with tanks and soldiers firing live rounds at crowds, but it is estimated that 1,000 people were arrested.
The Lebanese Electricity Corp said there had been some minor power outages in a few areas near Beirut during the day, but much of the country remained without power in either domestic or industrial use.
While Lebanon’s government is now fully working together and the electricity grid has started to recover, there are problems with the logistics of financing renewable power generation and more could still be brought forward in 2019.
Deraa al-Qattan, the CEO of the Lebanese Electricity Co, said that at the “heart of this issue is finances”, he said “we don’t have the money to produce more”.
She said that at the start of the year, Lebanon had a total of 2,500MW of generation capacity, but by the end of the year, that would drop to 1,100MW. It said the grid was fully restored in the south of the country, but other areas had been suffering outages.
“The supply of gas needs to be replenished before we can step up our energy production,” he said. “We’re doing it one gas pipeline at a time,” said the CEO.
Lebanon has about 2,500MW of installed generating capacity. Photograph: Crispian Balmer/AFP/Getty Images
In addition to the issue of funding, the electricity industry in Lebanon is complicated because of the different owners and regimes involved, with the bulk of the power generation being contracted to energy companies in Japan, Germany and Spain.
When there are disputes over contracts in these energy companies, small disputes spill over into much bigger issues, in particular over whether it is possible to use solar power on a large scale. Lebanon currently only gets about 1% of its electricity from the sun, although with the power available from areas without infrastructure, it is feasible.