|22 February, 2017

Refugee crisis strains Lebanon’s deficient electricity network

Even prior to the rapid influx of refugees Lebanon’s power system was unable to meet daily demand

Image used for illustrative purpose A lighted lamp post is pictured next to other lamp posts in a business park site where construction works have been halted, in Tomares, near Seville, southern Spain December 19, 2013. Spanish electricity bills are set to rise by at least 10.5 percent in January, hitting cash-strapped consumers hard and casting more doubt on whether a wide-ranging energy reform passed in July will be enough to fix a distorted power market. Spain is trying to balance a 30 billion euro ($41 billion) electricity tariff deficit created by years of a policy that kept prices below the sum of costs ranging from generation and transmission to renewable subsidies and capacity payments. The reforms, which include subsidy cuts and tax hikes, were meant to spread the burden of curbing the tariff deficit among consumers, companies and the state, which had pledged 3.6 billion euros in funds to help close the gap. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

Image used for illustrative purpose A lighted lamp post is pictured next to other lamp posts in a business park site where construction works have been halted, in Tomares, near Seville, southern Spain December 19, 2013. Spanish electricity bills are set to rise by at least 10.5 percent in January, hitting cash-strapped consumers hard and casting more doubt on whether a wide-ranging energy reform passed in July will be enough to fix a distorted power market. Spain is trying to balance a 30 billion euro ($41 billion) electricity tariff deficit created by years of a policy that kept prices below the sum of costs ranging from generation and transmission to renewable subsidies and capacity payments. The reforms, which include subsidy cuts and tax hikes, were meant to spread the burden of curbing the tariff deficit among consumers, companies and the state, which had pledged 3.6 billion euros in funds to help close the gap. REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

Reuters/Marcelo del Pozo

22 February 2017

BEIRUT: The ongoing Syrian refugee crisis is straining Lebanon’s already inadequate electricity infrastructure, a recent report published by the Energy Ministry and UNDP Tuesday has found. During the launch event, Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil made an urgent plea for additional support. “The energy sector, responsible for the proper functioning of all other sectors and the well-being of individuals and the economy, has been left out of assistance since the beginning of the crisis,” he said.

Even prior to the rapid influx of refugees fleeing the ongoing war in Syria, Lebanon’s power system was unable to meet daily demand, with power cuts a staple of life throughout the country. Jil Amine, a power specialist with the UNDP in Lebanon who did not speak at the conference, explained that peak demand for power in the summer hits 3,100 MW but the peak generation from plants provides around 1,600 MWs.

In 2010, prior to the Syrian conflict, the Energy Ministry under then-Energy Minister Gebran Bassil started a plan to address the issue.

According to Suzy Hoyek, the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan coordinator at the ministry, this included upgrading several power plants and renting two floating power-generating barges brought in from Turkey. In total, once completed, these projects would have already added 443 Megawatts to the grid.

“In a month’s time,” she said, “we should also have two new [refitted] power plants in Jiyyeh and Tyre. This would add an additional 272 megawatts, bringing the total of new power generation to 715 megawatts.”

Nevertheless, due to the rapid influx of Syrians, the power output by the refitted facilities was matched almost exactly by increased demand from refugees. According to the report, ongoing rehabilitation work on existing power plants and the ongoing construction of new facilities will not be enough to meet the growing demand.

“The study highlights the necessity of generating an additional 486 megawatts to cater to the electricity usage of displaced Syrians,” Abi Khalil said. “In terms of cost, this is equivalent to $333 million per year.”

According to Robert Sfairy, the senior Energy Consultant to the Energy and Water Ministry, this energy expenditure comes from two primary sources: direct and indirect usage. “The direct impact of the displaced Syrians is an additional 447 megawatts of power consumption,” he said. This includes daily usage and households tapping directly into unmetered power sources.

The collateral effect of population growth however, Sfairy explained, was an additional increase in “indirect” energy expenditures on institutions like schools, hospitals and municipalities forced to deal with rapid increases in demands for their services.

“Schools, for instance, are forced to turn on generators, because they need an additional four hour shift to accommodate Syrian students,” Luca Renda, the UNDP country director, said. “We also see impacts near hospitals, where improvised power supply cables overload distribution networks. This results in a drop in voltage, forcing hospitals to rely on generators.”

Renda explained that, for similar reasons, lower voltages forced many municipalities to operate water pumps and other service machinery on generators, further driving up indirect costs and electricity usage. According to Sfairy, this accounts for the other 39 of the total 486 megawatts of additional demand.

The increase in usage has also strained the basic infrastructure of Lebanon’s power grid, Hoyek said. “In Lebanon, there are around 18,200 transformers [that distribute power to users],” she said. “Before, each transformer was supposed to service 220 people. Now, each one services 320 people. This means a huge reduction in supply quantity and quality.”

Because major reconstruction and grid rehabilitation projects are either unlikely or not quick enough to meet ongoing needs, many of the solutions in the report focused on short and medium term solutions based on renewable energy. “We don’t believe it’s realistic to aim for large-scale, long-term solutions,” Renda said. “But we still believe it can have significant impact.”

In the short term, Sfairy said, many of the reports solutions focus on what he called “demand side” initiatives designed to reduce the burden on the national grid. “These include utilizing energy saving bulbs, solar water heaters and solar cooking kits. These can be implemented in many households, especially in rural and vulnerable areas.”

Medium-term solutions – those that would take at least five years to implement – emphasized slightly larger interventions on the supply side. “This means increasing power generation through renewable energy sources,” Hoyek said.

During his remarks, Sfairy also highlighted larger projects that could address this component of the problem. “We can retrofit streetlights with LED lamps. We can even use wind turbines and wind farms in areas like the west Bekaa or Akkar,” he said.

Reinforcing the transmission network is also important, Hoyek explained. “We can improve substations and reinforce them through the rehabilitation of transformers and other equipment.”

Nevertheless, these goals may run into funding problems early on in their implementation. “Overall, [the ministry] budget between 2017 and 2020 is $444 million,” Hoyek said. “This is much less than the losses we will be incurring from the additional generation needs.”

© Copyright The Daily Star 2017.

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