Lebanon Energy Market: Outlook and Opportunities
| By Alexander Haidar |
- Political Situation
- Energy Sector Background
- IMF Bailout Energy Sector Provisions
- Agreement on Maritime Borders with the State of Israel
- Existing Sustainable Energy in Lebanon
Over the course of the past decade, the economic situation in Lebanon has made life increasingly difficult for its population of roughly 6 million people. Within the last few years in particular, Lebanon has gone from seeing a widespread social movement against the broken system of government; to dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic; to an explosion of roughly 2,750 tons of Ammonium Nitrate in its capital city of Beirut; to present-day mass inflation and power-shortages.Needless to say, the Lebanese people have had to remain resilient in the face of unmatched uncertainty. Today, the cumulative impact of the economic crisis has seen life-savings, retirement-funds, and salaries paid in LL lose upwards of 90% of their value. Meanwhile, the US Dollar shortage means that dollar-backed accounts have withdrawal restrictions, causing some desperate citizens to hold bank employees hostage with guns to demand access to their own money. Additionally, the war in Ukraine the country that accounted for 80% of Lebanon’s wheat import market in 2020— has been dangerously exacerbating the diminishing levels of wheat stores left after the destruction of grain silos in the Beirut Port. Currently, the Lebanese government has secured a $150 million World Bank loan to cover short-term wheat expenses, and likewise has been engaging in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over a roughly $3 billion, four-year ‘Extended Fund Arrangement’ to sustainably rebuild and strengthen the economy.However, the stipulations for this economic assistance are contingent on the completion of a series of governmental actions and reforms, many of which have yet to take place. Despite this reality, these compounding crises have the opportunity to pave the way for a future revitalization of the Lebanese economy centered around the energy sector.
The reality of hostility between the US and Iranian-backed parties alike has resulted in a political stalemate whereby the Lebanese government is a medium of international proxies. In late November of 2022, a delegation of Democratic U.S. Congress members: Mark Takano (California), Katie Porter (California), and Colin Allred (Texas), met with the Caretaker Prime Minister: Najib Mikati, urging that the Parliament elect a President who will form a productive and effective government. This comes as the parliament has, for the eighth time, failed to reach a consensus on a new leader after former President Michel Aoun announced he would be stepping down at the end of October.
The inability to reach a decision since then is largely due to a lack of consensus on a candidate capable of appeasing the security demands of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Free Patriotic Movement bloc while also building a stronger democratic Lebanese Republic with independent, non-corrupt institutions. This has manifested itself in blank papers receiving more ‘votes’ than the next most popular candidate, a silent way in which MP’s have been protesting not only the choice of candidates, but the sectarian system itself. Amongst other mandated religious divisions of power, the confessional system of democracy requires that the President of the Republic be a Maronite Christian. Until a leader, one capable of uniting opposing political parties and governing for the common interests of national security, economic stability, and respect for independent judicial processes is agreed upon by all parties, the living situation for Lebanese citizens will not be able to improve. One such test of the Lebanese people’s trust in the judicial system is the investigation of the 2020 Beirut Blast which has yet to be decided as political pressure from all stakeholders has been mounting.
In October of 2022, the Iranian government was ready to offer 600,000 tonnes of fuel to relieve the high fuel prices in the country as economic assistance. However, the United States prevented this from happening, indicating that the Lebanese government would face sanctions were it to accept the gift. Previously, Iran has sent fuel directly to Hezbollah during the fuel shortage, avoiding U.S. sanctions by first shipping it to Syria, in a bid to garner support for their regional ally. Meanwhile, the United States has been attempting to counter Iranian economic influence and regional hegemony encroaching in Lebanon by funding US-supported social programs designed to improve the lives of Lebanese, likewise building support amongst Lebanese people. The Innovation for Affordable and Renewable Energy for All (INARA) plan put forth by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) looks to allocate $29 million to “deliver reliable energy across all regions of Lebanon.” Through USAID, the United States has supported “41 solar energy projects to date, benefitting 460,000 residents in 70 Lebanese towns and villages.” Additionally, USAID announced in November of 2022 that an additional $8.5 million in funding will be provided to build 22 solar powered water pumping projects, impacting “more than 150 towns and villages and benefiting over half a million Lebanese citizens and refugees.” It is clear through each partys’ attempt to support the Lebanese people they each have a vested interest in maintaining political and economic influence in the country.
Energy Sector Background
The energy sector in Lebanon is operated through a vertically integrated system of utility, meaning electricity needs are primarily met through one company: Electricté du Liban (EDL). Founded by Decree No. 16878 of 1964, EDL was initially tasked with being responsible for the “generation, transmission, and distribution of electrical energy in Lebanon.” As an autonomous public institution, EDL operates within the domain of the Ministry of Energy and Water (MoEW). Law No. 20 of 1966, subsequently amended by Law No. 247 of 2000, founded and tasked MoEW with “proposing comprehensive rules for the organization of services relating to the production, transmission and distribution of electrical energy.” Its thermal plants operating on imported oil control more than 90% of the official Lebanese electricity sector, however, an undermaintained electric grid and consistently unreliable power generating capacities have led to a severe disparity between the company’s energy production and real energy demands, consequently leading to blackouts and energy rationing. In 2012, a contract was signed between EDL and the Turkish power firm Karpowership to provide two ‘Powerships’ totaling 404MW (Mega Watts) in production capacity, covering 25% of Lebanese electricity needs. However, this contract was terminated in May of 2021 when the government proved incapable of paying for the previous 18 months worth of electricity.
Because of the failure of the Lebanese national energy provider to cover a 1 Gigawatt gap in power supply and demand, most people rely on a highly unregulated network of privately-owned, diesel-powered generators. Generators operate on an individual basis (one person in a community who can afford a generator and sells it back to other individuals, often with significantly high margins of profit), or municipal basis (a local municipality acquires a generator and sells energy back to all members in the community, usually, but not always, at a more regulated price). Consortiums of generator owners in Lebanon have therefore formed a new class of mafia-like businessmen empowered by corrupt public officials who dictate energy supply and prices. Production and sale of energy without state-approved contracts in Lebanon is technically illegal under the jurisdiction of Law No. 462. However, as generators are necessary to make up the significant energy supply-demand disparity, they are an unquestioned exception.
Not operating within any uniform network of system operators, the entire private energy market in Lebanon is open to all kinds of mismanagement and profiteering. First and foremost, this comes from the limited use of government metering to monitor electricity consumption, with private energy providers often opting for highly lucrative flat rate generator subscriptions. In November of 2021, the official prices as set forth by MoEW for those living in city areas was a fixed cost of LL30,000 (LL = Lebanese Liras) for a 5 amps subscription or LL60,000 for 10 amps subscription, plus LL5,200 per kilowatt hour. Lebanese citizens have little agency over who can offer them at least a few hours of stable electricity, whether or not they meter electricity consumption. As such, they cannot be held accountable for playing into an unregulated market when material needs, ie. cooking food and 50ºC+ summer heat, take precedence. Following the November decision, the spokesperson for the syndicate of private generator owners, Abdo Saadeh, demanded a minimum of LL 5,900 per kilowatt hour, plus a fixed charge of LL50,000 and LL100,000 for 5 amps and 10 amps, respectively. A leading French newspaper in Lebanon, L’Orient Le Jour, interviewed Beirut residents from the same area who each reported paying arbitrarily decided amounts for unmetered 5 amp subscriptions, with monthly totals ranging from LL550,000 and LL2,000,000. As of November 29 2022, L’Orient Le Jour reported a government-updated, per kilowatt hour price of electricity produced by private generators to be LL17,585 in cities and LL19,343 in rural areas and those 700 meters above sea level.
Roughly 40 percent of the country’s public debt since 1992 can be attributed to the crisis in the energy sector. Needless to say, the dire economic and social situation in Lebanon is inherently linked to the energy crisis which is inherently linked to EDL. An effort to support equal competition was attempted in 2002 by Law No. 462, which provided that so long as an energy provider satisfies the conditions of a National Regulator for the Electricity Sector Organization (NRESO), they are equally eligible for state energy contracts. However, the Lebanese NRESO was never even formed, let alone approved any new energy contracts. Electricity metering is also facing a dire situation following the 2020 explosion in Beirut port where EDL’s data center for billing systems as well as customer meters laboratory were destroyed. In March of 2022, the Lebanese Cabinet approved a new plan to establish an independent National Regulating Authority (NRA) as well as to implement several upgrades to the electricity sector in a bid to secure the IMF bailout. As promising as this may be, similar efforts previously attempted have failed due to private interests of government personnel hindering effective implementation. Like previous attempts, it is possible that the new NRA would become a medium of this environment of regulatory capture in Lebanon.
The MoEW has put forth multiple energy sector plans in the past 12 years: Policy Paper for the Energy Sector (2010), Energy Sector Salvation Plan (2017), and the Updated Policy Paper for the Electricity Sector (2019), however, none of these papers discussed in any capacity the adoption of renewable energy sources being a potential solution to energy insecurity. Many studies since, as pointed out in a letter directed at the MoEW from the Executive Director of Greenpeace MENA, have “shown the need for laying renewable energy, namely, solar power, as the cornerstone of any plan seeking to develop or save the sector from this deep-rooted crisis in Lebanon.”The reality of the broken electricity sector in Lebanon means that renewable alternatives could offer a new solution to present energy obstacles.
IMF Bailout Energy Sector Provisions
In April of 2021, Lebanese and IMF authorities reached a “staff level” agreement on a potential financing deal, which aims to “restore growth and financial stability, strengthen governance and transparency, and increase social and reconstruction spending” in the Lebanese Republic. Following the visit of senior IMF officials to Lebanon in September of 2022, a press release indicated the shortfallings of the Lebanese government to implement the agreed upon economic reforms on which the bailout is contingent. The list of yet-to-be-completed actions included the approval of 2022 and 2023 budgets, implementing capital control measures and likewise, financial sector rehabilitation strategies. The release also pointed out that while the recent Lebanese Parliament’s Banking Secrecy Law “contained some positive steps, it fell short of the changes needed to bring it in line with the best international practices.”
Shortly after this visit and the statement by IMF officials, the Parliament finally passed the annual budget which remains in a deficit of 11 trillion LL ($1.2 billion). As the vote occurred, retired military officials voiced their frustrations with the inaction towards a solution for the financial crisis. The new budget looks to set the official exchange rate to 15,000LL to $1, however, the actual market rate is closer to 42,000LL to $1. The IMF also stipulates that financial sector reforms must include a criminal audit of Central Bank accounts as well as a restructuring of public debt. Even if the IMF loan is approved, the $3 billion “Extended Fund Arrangement” will be a long way from making up for the estimated $80 billion in losses; this will require a fundamental reform which focuses on strengthening the republic’s financial, judicial, and democratic institutions. The IMF also stipulates that “state-owned enterprises, particularly in the energy sector” be reformed to provide the country with a “state-owned enterprises framework to improve governance and oversight [which] will help [to] reduce hemorrhage of scarce government resources.”
With the opportunity of a financial bailout, the Lebanese Ministry has the opportunity to take advantage of international funding to pursue economically and environmentally sustainable energy solutions. Since then, in a new policy statement issued by the MoEW in March, 2022: Setting Lebanon’s Electricity Sector on a Sustainable Growth Path, the primary objective is identified as “ensuring reliable, affordable, and sustainable (24/7) electricity services across Lebanon in an efficient, fiscally balanced, and environmentally friendly manner.” Furthermore, it put forth the following simplified Action Plan approved by the Lebanese cabinet:
Short–term, <1 year
- Secure electricity imports from Jordan through an agreement with Jordan to import an average of 200 MW surplus Jordanian electricity.
- Secure gas imports from Egypt through the Lebanese portion of the Arab Gas Pipeline, at a rate of around 650 million cubic meters per year over a ten-year agreement, allowing the generation of an average of approximately 400 MW in the Deir Amarnatural gas plant.
Short–to Medium–term, 1‐2 years
- Provide natural gas to existing plants and build a gas‐fired combined cycle power plant at Zahrani of 825 MW capacity (Zahrani II) financed by possibly using IMF’s extra SDR allocation, with possible subsequent (built‐in) divestment to the private sector after commissioning.
- Temporary generation capacity at Deir Amar of up to 520 MW until the permanent Deir Amar II plant is constructed and commissioned. Active market sounding efforts have already identified interests from Egypt, US and others to supply temporary infrastructure late 2022 early 2023.
- Implement solar independent power producing stations projects; including a pilot program aimed at deploying 12 solar farms with a total generation capacity of 180 MW (15 MW per solar farm) throughout Lebanon in 2023.
- Introduce on‐grid solar energy; MoEW through the LCEC is piloting a project aiming to deploy solar farms throughout Lebanon with a total generation capacity of 180 MW in 2023 divided into 15 MW per solar farm.
- Develop wind farms through power purchase agreements signed to establish three wind energy projects with a total capacity of 226 MW in 2024 in
Medium–to Long‐term, 3‐5 years
- Renewable Energy scale‐up of utility‐scale RE projects (solar, wind and hydropower) towards an objective of reaching at least 30 percent of generation capacity from renewable sources in the energy mix by 2030, as per Électricité de France’s Least Cost Generation Plan.
- Decommission the outdated steam turbine plants that cannot be switched to natural gas in Zouk and Jieh once new power plants have been installed.
- Launch competitive procurement program for the design, construction and operation of a gas‐fired combined cycle power plant in Deir Amar, using potential Egyptian gas supply or international Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) gasified in Jordan and channeled to Deir Amar.
Agreement on Maritime Borders with the State of Israel
The recent U.S.-brokered treaty recognizing the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel offers another potential path to economic recovery. The country has previously remained at a stalemate with regards to any chance of exploring its potentially large off-shore natural gas fields due to the Lebanese government decision not to recognize the State of Israel’s authority over its land and Exclusive Economic Zone. I n a Press Release by U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the State Department considered the agreement between the two nations as a “breakthrough” which could promise “prosperity and stability” by providing “vital energy” resources to the both parties. Since the announcement in October of 2022, France’s TotalEnergies and its partner, the Italian state hydrocarbon authority ENI, have announced that they will begin an exploration phase in Block 9 of the Qana natural gas field on the Lebanese side of the maritime border. The “largest independent natural gas producer in Russia,” Novatek had expressed earlier interest in building an oil refinery, however, this offer has since been withdrawn, likely due to the intensification of sanctions against Russian entities since the start of the war in Ukraine. Despite this, Prime Minister Mikati announced in an LBC (Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation) interview that the State of Qatar is looking to step in instead. While projects are still in the initial stages, the hope is that Lebanon could eventually become an oil producing nation, capable of covering and potentially exceeding domestic demand, providing new revenue streams to help cover the nation’s debt. While this ambitious plan would require new productive political discourse and cooperation between Lebanese political parties, it could provide an alternative to the political elite from enacting the IMF’s strict requirements for a bailout, meanwhile reducing dependency on foreign assistance.
Existing Sustainable Energy in Lebanon
Even if political parties agree upon the financial and contractual terms of domestic oil production, there still remains the issue of Lebanon meeting its commitment to international climate change agreements. As part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), even the largest oil-backed economies are adopting national strategies of diversification away from reliance on fossil fuels. In order to meet SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, Lebanon committed to generating 30% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Transitioning towards national oil production would require high costs, increased security concerns, and is known to have adverse environmental impacts. Meanwhile, Lebanon’s geography and climate allows for a relatively low-cost shift to renewable energy, particularly solar power with more than 300 days of sunlight a year. The truth remains that solar and other renewable energy sources are not only becoming cheaper as international demand and production rise around the world, but they are now seen as necessary for national security by countries such as the United States. Given reliance on outdated electricity grids and highly polluting generators powered by foreign oil, expanding the renewable energy sector could provide a path towards Lebanese national energy security and independence.
There is already evidence that solar panels have been effective in small scale, individual installations on houses to cover extra energy needs. While the compounded reality of the economic and energy crises has meant that fuel for cars and generators is unaffordable to most of the population, sustainable alternatives have been filling the gaps where conventional systems previously faltered. The number of companies licensed to install solar panels in Lebanon has increased from 130 in 2020 to around 700 in 2022. Additionally, private installations of solar panels have added 350 MW of power capacity in the same time period. While prices have been steadily decreasing as there is more competition amongst suppliers in the market, prices can range anywhere from around $2,000-$15,000 for a domestic installation, while commercial building installations can cost up to $200,000. According to the president of the Lebanese Center for Energy Conservation (LCEC), from 2021 to 2022, roughly $350 million has been privately invested in solar energy systems. While private solar panel projects have been placing the fiscal responsibility on individuals and companies, plans for larger-scale, utility-style renewable energy projects have been undergoing planning and implementation processes across the country. So far, much of the success in this regard has started from smaller-scale municipally-operated solar installations, which could easily be connected to existing grids, replacing complete dependence on generators. Prices remain unaffordable to much of the population, however, the rapid market expansion during the crises of the past two years has highlighted the potential for a large-scale energy transformation in the country, if capital control measures prove to be effective in stabilizing the economy. It also points out how people’s perception of governmental ineffectiveness has transcended the financial burdens associated with installing solar panels; individuals looking to be more in control of their energy security are seeing a decentralized, solar-backed grid as a more feasible solution to the conventional national electricity grid. The rapid increase in demand for solar panels combined with the influx of foreign funding from the United States and others will establish a new and secure renewable energy job market, benefiting local economies and making clean energy a centerpoint of a Lebanese economic revival.
The energy sector in Lebanon still faces many challenges, chief among them being the remnants of systemic corruption which continues to infiltrate all aspects of daily life. Lack of regulation and trust of government institutions has resulted in a disorganized and decentralized electricity sector whereby consumers can easily be taken advantage of. Unlike many other highly urbanized populations, Lebanon lacks many of the necessary and modern social and public services needed to facilitate human development and economic growth. Likewise, the absence of a parliamentary consensus on the next President of the Republic means that the Lebanese state cannot function to its fullest extent to solve the energy crisis. In many cases, third-party actors and funders have so far proven to be more effective than the government at implementing many basic electricity and other infrastructure services. That being said, the effectiveness of these programs can be attributed to competent leadership, resource allocation, and oversight of the implementation which the government has been unable to provide.
The opportunity to tap into the natural gas reserves of the Leviathan field could not only provide a new revenue stream for the government if they are to be sold in international markets, but could possibly replace the existing diesel generator infrastructure to implement less polluting fuels. However, while the former implies that any gas will be found at all, the latter implies that the ‘generator mafia’ would still be in charge of energy production and distribution. On the other hand, while it would require serious international funding, updating existing or investing in new power generating facilities, such as domestically operated LNG power plants or LNG to power ships, could give EDL a chance to revitalize the centralized national grid. Given EDL’s history of severe mismanagement and corruption, this seems unlikely and far-fetched. Uniquely though, the clean energy sector growth that has been observed in the years since the financial crisis has indicated the potential of a nation-wide transition towards a decentralized, solar-backed grid.
Regardless of the types of fuel used, Lebanon presently has an opportunity to pursue a new national energy reality whereby proper sourcing, procurement, and management of energy resources could provide a path out of the economic crisis. Ultimately, Lebanon will now need to effectively implement and nationalize the sustainable development plan of the energy sector in order to ensure long-term energy security. World Bank loans, IMF bailouts, fuel donations from Iran, or international development projects such as those advanced by USAID can often provide short-term relief and social improvements in isolated areas, however, they contribute to an unsustainable cycle of government reliance on foreign assistance to cover basic services. A comprehensive and pragmatic approach would require both development of the nation’s potential natural gas resources as a dependable source of revenue, while also advancing the renewables markets to build a sustainable twenty-first century economy.
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 Mullen, Tahlia, and The Author Tahlia Mullen. “Rooting out Lebanon’s Generator Mafia.” The London Globalist | An Student-Run International Affairs Magazine Based at the LSE, 4 Mar. 2022, bit.ly/3Ijmx7Q.
 Ayat, Carol, Jessica Obeid, Laury Haytayan, and Marc Ayoub. 2021. “Keeping The Lights On; A Short Term Action Plan For Lebanon’s Electricity Sector”. Beirut: AUB Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs. bit.ly/3Covitl.
 Despite being officially pegged in the international exchange market at 1,500LL / 1USD, the actual market exchange rate is nowhere near that with prices fluctuating around 36,000LL / 1USD. Meanwhile, the Lebanese central bank has authorized bank withdrawals at the rate of 8,000LL / 1USD.
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 Nakat, Ghiwa. “Open Letter to H.E. Dr. Walid Fayad, Minister of Energy and Water.” Greenpeace MENA, Greenpeace Middle East and North Africa 2022, 21 Oct. 2021, bit.ly/3Fn0OsD.
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 Chehayeb, Kareem. “Lebanon-Israel Deal a Landmark but with Limits, Experts Say.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 3 Nov. 2022, bit.ly/3hmG8ZI.
 Blinken, Anthony J. Secretary of State “Historic Breakthrough on the Israel-Lebanon Maritime Boundary.” U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson, 11 Oct. 2022, bit.ly/3X8eEpJ. Accessed 12 Dec. 2022.
 Mroue, Bassem. “Total to Launch Sea Exploration after Lebanon-Israel Deal.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 15 Nov. 2022, bit.ly/3hlA03W.
 “About Us.” Novatek, Pao Novatek, bit.ly/3W8uPTC.
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 Nakat, Ghiwa. “Open Letter to H.E. Dr. Walid Fayad, Minister of Energy and Water.” Greenpeace MENA, Greenpeace Middle East and North Africa 2022, 21 Oct. 2021, bit.ly/3Fn0OsD.
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 Jalabi, Raya. “Lebanon’s Failing State Forces Unplanned Shift to Solar Power.” Financial Times, Financial Times Ltd., 10 Nov. 2022, bit.ly/3YkquPh.
 BOUTROS, Philippe HAGE. “Lebanon Is Turning to Solar Energy, but Are There Risks?” L’Orient Today, L’Orient Today, 13 Sept. 2022, bit.ly/3vDWi4l.
 AFP. “’A Necessity’: Lebanon’s Forced Conversion to Solar.” France 24, 11 Sept. 2022, bit.ly/3ULI7V2.