MON 16 - 12 - 2019
Date: Feb 19, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Energy and Water Minister: Will you lead the Lebanese renewable energy revolution?
Zeina Al-Hajj
Dear Minister Boustani, As a female environmental activist, it is good to see the role of the Energy Minister held by a female who has been following the ministry’s work since 2010 and thus well positioned to move things around. I am addressing you as a Lebanese citizen demanding her basic right to clean, cheap and reliable round the clock electricity. We can read in the ministerial statement the responsibility that you have taken forward and we hope our letter will be an appeal to move the implementation of a serious revolution within the ministry to roll out renewable energy in Lebanon.

Lebanon’s current power plants, that are still stuck in the stone age, are fed with some of the most archaic fossil fuels: heavy fuel oil and diesel. Not only are they old and inefficient, but our power plants are also polluting and dangerous. We still rely on polluting fuel to generate insufficient and subsidized electricity, which is costing the government up to $1.5 billion a year. Hard to do worse ... And to add insult to injury, our 1 gigawatt power gap is filled by private diesel generators spread out between our homes releasing toxic emissions right under our noses.

Back in November, Greenpeace made headlines in Lebanon when it released a global nitrogen oxide (NOx) air pollution report that ranked Jounieh as the fifth most polluted Arab city and 23rd worldwide. The analysis revealed that almost the entirety of the country is exposed to dangerous levels of NOx, a pollutant that originates from burning fossil fuels and is responsible for a swarm of premature deaths around the world (data from Europe reveals that around 75,000 Europeans die every year due to these emissions).

Fortunately, there is an obvious solution to our electricity and pollution woes. The energy gap could be primarily filled by our most abundant energy source: our sun! Solar energy does not pollute, is cheap, provides jobs and could be quickly deployed both on a micro and macro scale. It is a perfect solution!

In Lebanon, the solar energy sector has been slowly but steadily growing over the past years reaching a capacity of 35 megawatt, producing only 0.35 percent of the total annual electricity generation by EDL. This is far too low ... it is time to initiate a massive and fast deployment of renewable energy projects, upgrade the infrastructure and support our young talents investing in renewables.

2017 was a record year for renewable energies globally, with 157GW of renewable power commissioned. This is twice the capacity of new fossil fuel energy projects for that same year! Solar energy is now cheap - prices have reached a record low of less than $3 cents per kilwatt-hour - while EDL is producing electricity from dirty oil at around $14 cents per kWh and selling it at a loss of $9 cents per kWh. Studies show that the renewable energy sector could provide more than 20,000 job opportunities by 2021 in Lebanon. We just need to look across the Mediterranean for inspiration: The “energy poor” kingdom of Morocco is developing one of the world’s biggest solar parks and is on track to reach its target of 52 percent renewable energy by 2030!

Renewable energy is no longer perceived as a futuristic, elitist technology. It has become mainstream and will become the main source of energy in the near future. The good news is that our past failures can be turned into resounding successes. The power gap currently plaguing us could be our opportunity to leapfrog into the renewable energy era. Imagine a Lebanon powered by wind farms, solar power plants and solar panels on our roofs. It does not have to be a dream, it should be a necessary reality!

Mrs. Boustani, will you lead Lebanon into its renewable energy revolution?

Zeina al-Hajj is the Beirut-based director of Greenpeace MENA, a regional office for Greenpeace working across all Arab-speaking countries.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 19, 2019, on page 6.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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