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Between Oil and Renewables: What Energy Mix for Lebanon?

The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI) at the American University of Beirut organized today a panel discussion titled "Between Oil and Renewables: What Energy Mix for Lebanon?". The session which was moderated by Rana El Hajj, Climate Change and Environment Program Manager at the institute, included Ali Ahmad and Nadim Farajalla from IFI; Energy Policy and Security Program Director and Climate Change and Environment Director respectively, affiliated scholars at the institute Jon Nordenson and Jamal Saghir, as well as Hassan Harajli from UNDP CEDRO project.

The debate tackled questions related to the extent of Lebanon's future reliance on oil and gas; its potential for renewable energy; the investment landscape of the energy sector; the time frame for oil and gas exploration, and commercialization versus renewables; the role of social acceptance; and the short and long-term options for green energy transition in the country.

The discussion gauged a plethora of views from the panelists. Ahmad highlighted the polarization of the energy sector in Lebanon and the world, stating that in a rapidly changing sector, it is difficult to address transitions on the short and long-term with certainty. He views that short-term solutions should be geared towards a mix between oil and gas and renewables, favoring a long-term focus on renewables.

As for Nordenson, he brought forth the importance of social acceptance in green energy transitions in the present and future, and the need to foster public participation, transparency, and local context in this process.

Later on Saghir argued that Lebanon has missed various opportunities to invest in renewable energy and has oversold the gas story, which he claims will not bring commercial benefits to the country before ten years. He proposes to scale-up on and leapfrog to more reliance on renewable energy, but underscores the need to conduct more research on the transmission and storage capacity, to have a better understanding of the energy system as a whole.

Harajli discussed the challenges of leapfrogging to renewables in Lebanon, starting from the grid to the transmission, stressing however, that leapfrogging at the distribution level could be an essential cornerstone in Lebanon. He mentioned that storage is the last barrier to achieve 100% renewables, a process which is already being partially implemented and will greatly facilitate long-term reliance on renewable energy.

On the other hand, Farajalla highlighted the environmental concerns relating to the energy sector in Lebanon and stressed the need to address issues in an integrated manner; looking at the water-energy-food nexus, tackling renewables in the transportation sector, and considering trade-offs among all sectors in the country.

The debate brought various questions from the audience, some of whom saw that a future Lebanon strongly reliant on renewables was possible, while others saw more economic returns from investing in oil and gas on the short-term. The issue of corruption and poor governance was emphasized, highlighting the 40% technical and non-technical losses of the electricity sector and their impacts on potential investments in renewables. The need to upgrade the electricity grid to accommodate for the upcoming energy transition and greener mix was a point of convergence, as well as the recognition that the political economy is a key determinant of the energy mix that Lebanon will have in the future.

Source: National News Agency