Reliable electricity generation has been a longstanding problem for Lebanon. The current system simply does not have the capacity to power the country for a full 24 hours. The Lebanese Government had been making improvements in the electricity sector, but this has been offset by the influx of Syrian refugees over the last six years. This additional burden on the electricity sector has compelled the Government and the Ministry of Energy and Water to propose a plan, in parallel to its Policy Paper for Electricity, that would alleviate the pressure on the national grid and that would be financed by grants from the international community.
1.5 million too many users
Lebanon’s electricity sector simply has insufficient generating capacity. The efficiency of the existing system is below normal levels because of poor maintenance, deterioration of facilities, high losses, and the need for reinforcement of the transmission and distribution networks. In fact, service delivery standards are low as compared with other countries with similar per capita GDP. Even prior to the Syrian crisis, Lebanon suffered from extensive load shedding, with supply cuts in Beirut of at least three hours per day, and up to 12 hours per day outside of Beirut. The majority of consumers are therefore forced to rely on costly, environmentally unfriendly, small diesel generators to provide the balance of their electricity requirements. The electricity sector causes a massive financial drain on the Government of Lebanon, which subsidizes the cost of fuel used in Electricité du Liban’s (EDL’s) power plants. The sector cost the government $3.056 billion in 2014, $2.056 billion in 2015 and $2.1 billion in 2016. Add to this an additional 1.5 million users (the refugees), and you can imagine the strain that the system is enduring.
To assess the additional consumption of electricity by the 1.5 million displaced Syrians, the Ministry of Energy and Water, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Lebanon, conducted a study that revealed the need to supply an additional 450 to 500 megawatts of electricity (the equivalent of five hours of power supply on the national grid) to cover their demand. The cost of generating this additional power was estimated at $313 million in 2016, causing an estimated deficit to the Government/EDL of $222 million a year. In addition, the Ministry’s figures show that the Lebanese consumers, deprived of these 500MW and relying on private generators to cover the supply gap, incur expenses of almost $111 million a year. This implies that the total losses of the electricity sector are more than $333 million a year.
The study also found that, on average among the different governorates, 45 percent of the electrical connections of Syrian households to the grid were done in an illegal manner, which not only implies as much lost sales to the already exhausted Government and EDL, but also causes technical losses on the grid manifested in the deprivation of other legally connected customers from proper electricity.
The Ministry of Power and Water was actually making strides toward securing longer hours of electricity for its users. To do so it increased its output to 443 megawatts through the rented power barges and the upgrade of the Zahrani power plant (approximately the same amount of power being consumed by the Syrian refugee population). In order to accommodate the additional usage by the refugees, the public didn’t see the difference that it was promised, and it continues to have the same number of hours of electricity from EDL and keeps paying for generators.
The strategy going forward
In order to mitigate the effects of the additional electrical consumption, the Ministry has proposed a number of initiatives through the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan for the next four years (2017-2020) that are sustainable and beneficial in the long term.
Rehabilitate the distribution and transmission networks
With respect to the distribution network, today around 18,200 MV/LV transformers along with LV cables service more than 5.85 million people (Lebanese and Syrians), which implies that each unit is servicing 320 people, instead of 220 people as was planned before the crisis. This overloads the national grid. It is necessary to rehabilitate 1,535 of the existing 18,200 transformers and to provide 700 new transformers to be installed in highly vulnerable communities in order to improve services to both Lebanese and displaced Syrians. To have a significant impact by the end of 2017, it is planned to rehabilitate 40 percent or 280 transformers and add 614 new ones.
As for the transmission, several HV/MV substations require rehabilitation, upgrading, or construction, especially in regions with high concentrations of displaced Syrians where the load on the existing infrastructure has significantly increased.
Increase electricity from renewable energy sources and use energy-efficient products
A number of renewable energy and energy-efficient projects are proposed to target both the vulnerable Lebanese and the displaced Syrians that would contribute to alleviating the load on the national grid:
1. Solar water heaters for homes. If fully implemented, this activity would save 750,000 MWh/year and cause a yearly reduction in CO2 emissions of 500,000 tons.
2. Solar off-grid lighting around informal settlements and on public municipal streets (5,000 off-grid solar lighting poles in different outdoor areas recommended). This would ensure safer circulation zones for both Lebanese communities and displaced Syrians.
3. Solar pumping for public wells that would reduce electricity and generator bills (pumps need electricity to function). The maximum estimated installed capacity is seven MWp and can be distributed among vulnerable localities according to the pumping requirements and land availability surrounding the public well.
4. Solar photovoltaic (PV) farms for electricity generation. This requires installation of solar PV panels to serve a small community or to be installed in public institutions. This targets vulnerable localities and is intended to provide cheaper electricity to consumers, while alleviating the demand on the national grid. The maximum estimated installed capacity is 7.5 MWp and can be distributed among the different governorates.
5. Energy-efficient products must be introduced in homes and public institutions. Solar cookers must be introduced (currently many Syrian families use electric cookers while being illegally connected to the grid). Incandescent light bulbs should be changed to LED lights and energy-efficient lighting should be installed in public schools, hospitals, and other public institutions.
An estimated $444 million is required to implement the needed changes over the period of four years, which works out to be only a third of Lebanon’s estimated incurred losses over the same period ($1.33 billion by 2020).
If these proposed projects are executed, Lebanese hosting communities and displaced Syrians will feel an improvement in the quality of the electric current supplied and an increase in the hours of supply, which is often interrupted by the excessive load on the transformers and the substations. As such, their reliance on private generators will decrease and their bills will be less of a burden. It is also expected that these projects will decrease illegal connections to the grid and the losses in the system.