In the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit, the Lebanese government made a pledge to develop renewable energy production capacity to reach 12 percent of the total electricity supply by 2020. That same commitment was reaffirmed by the current government. This “political” commitment is a major milestone of the “policy paper for the electricity sector” that was developed by the Lebanese Energy  Ministry in 2010.
Adopted as the national strategy for the electricity sector by the government on June 21, 2010, the policy paper sets short-term objectives for renewable energy till 2015. While discussing the action plan and the needed steps to reach the 12 percent target, some – who label themselves as “energy experts”– argue that this target is unachievable. Facts, developments and planned upcoming steps, however, prove otherwise. Three years following the 12 percent “political” commitment and eight years before the 2020 “judgment day,” where does Lebanon stand in terms of renewable energy?  What technologies will ensure that this target is met?
To quantify the 12 percent share, it is important to define the potential production capacity by 2020. Based on data provided by the policy paper for the electricity sector, the current demand on electricity stands at around 2,400 MW, while the actual supply is limited to around 1,500 MW. The policy paper also aims at achieving a solid 5,000 MW of production after 2015. A sound engineering assumption states the increase on demand – and consequently on supply – is around 6 percent yearly. Accordingly, the total electricity production capacity by 2020 should be 6,700 MW. A share of 12 percent of this target would mean a production capacity of 804 MW to be ensured by means of renewable energy production.
To reach this target, Lebanon needs to have a mix of different renewable energy sources . In this regard, the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan (NEEAP) developed by the Lebanese Center for Energy Conservation (LCEC) has identified five main renewable energy technologies: wind, hydro, solar thermal, solar power, and bioenergy. Other, less important sources include geothermal, wave energy and others.
Although Lebanon hasn’t built its first wind farm yet, many crucial steps have been taken in this direction. In 2010, the Energy Ministry, with the support of the UNDP CEDRO project, launched the national wind atlas of Lebanon. Results are fascinating, showing an “extremely optimistic” potential of 6,200 MW and a more “realistic” one of 1,500 MW. Due to some constraints related to the electricity grid, land ownership and others, it is believed that the “most realistic” target for wind energy in Lebanon by 2020 is 400 MW. Currently, the Energy Ministry is reviewing an action plan allowing the government to build the first wind farm with a capacity of 30 MW, then to open the door to the private sector for completion of remaining 370 MW.
The other steps that were completed include the finalization of the environmental impact assessment of wind farms and their impact on soaring birds. Consultants and lawyers were trained on land purchase agreements and other legal issues. In addition, ministerial officials have completed the revision of Law 462, which will be submitted for the approval of the government and the Parliament. Changing Law 462 is the only legal framework that could allow the private sector to take part in renewable energy production.
The current hydro production capacity is of 274 MW. Two recent surveys conducted at the Energy Ministry show that updating, maintaining and repairing existing hydro plants can increase the installed capacity to around 300 MW. In fact, Electricite du Liban (EDL) has effectively started the bidding process to update some of its hydro plants. Other bids will follow in the near future. On the other hand, the Energy Ministry has started work on a number of dams, with potential hydro plants planned for execution. A realistic estimation of 100 MW of additional capacity means that the total hydro production capacity by 2020 would be around 400 MW.
Lebanon has embarked on a national initiative to develop the solar water heating market in Lebanon. The initiative is a joint effort between the Energy and Water Ministry and UNDP Lebanon through funding by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The target for 2020 is the installation of 1,050,000 SQM of solar systems. With the direct involvement of the Central Bank of Lebanon, the actual achievements for 2010 and 2011 much exceeded expectations. The target for 2020 can be estimated to replace 120 MW of production capacity (worst case scenario estimation).
As for other solar technologies, photovoltaic solar applications and concentrated solar power plants (CSP) could account for an estimated 100-150 MW by 2020. While the first type of decentralized applications have begun all over the country (industries, schools, houses), the cost for the CSP is still relatively high, but it is expected to drop drastically in the following few years. Bioenergy is an untapped potential for electricity production. The recently published National Bioenergy Strategy for Lebanon claims that 3 percent of the total electricity production in 2020 could be ensured by bio-based products, provided that a national action plan is put into place.
A quick review of the different renewable energy technologies show that the total production in renewable energy capacity could add up to 1,270 MW, which is around 19 percent of the total production, higher than the set target of 12 percent. However, in a high-risk, relatively unstable country such as Lebanon, caution is wise. Even with the highest risk factors, reaching 12 percent of renewable energy production seems feasible. While implementation is progressing along different fronts, the true breakthrough would come from the updating and adoption of Law 462. One alternative would be the adoption of a separate law for the development of renewable energy production. In all cases, until one of the two options progresses, serious efforts are being invested with one driving hope: To make this country a better place for generations to come.
Pierre El Khoury is director of the Lebanese Center for Energy Conservation (LCEC) and project manager at UNDP.