Lebanon’s Large-Scale Wind Energy Market

By Salah Tabbara – For a small country Lebanon has significant wind resources, and while other Arab countries are planning on relying on nuclear energy to meet their present and future power needs this tiny Levantine nation can invest in a much cleaner and safer source for power: wind.

In many wide-ranging areas average wind speeds are in excess of 9-10 meters per second per year and, in many other areas, average wind speeds are in excess of 6.5 to 7 meters per second, the speed at which wind farms are known to be economically viable. For a country that mostly relies on excessively costly fuel oil and diesel, wind power provides a cost effective and environmentally friendly means to enhance our energy security.

Lebanon is a highly dense country with relatively high per capita energy use that is currently satisfied by expensive and environmentally damaging diesel and fuel oil. More than 97% of Lebanese energy needs are imported, creating a large burden on family incomes as well as an energy system that is very sensitive to oil price fluctuations. To escape this truly dire predicament, the Lebanese government is currently planning, through its Ministry of Energy Policy Paper of 2010, a shift to natural gas and the penetration of renewable energy up to 12% of the energy mix by the year 2020. A total of 60-100 MW of wind is envisioned in the near term, however Lebanon can make much more use of wind power. Here is how.

The national wind atlas of the country, published by the UNDP-CEDRO project, put to rest the debate on wind power potential and estimated that Lebanon has at least 1500 MW of wind power potential to make use of, with an average estimated at 6100 MW. To put this in perspective, the overall operational conventional power plants in Lebanon today have a nominal capacity of 2023 MW.Yet to put this power to good public use, an effective legislative and regulatory framework is required, and it can be found in the country’s Law 462.

Law 462 came out in 2002 and called for the establishment of the National Regulatory Authority for the electricity sector, an authority that, alone, is entitled to license independent power producers. Ten years on, this law has not been implemented for various reasons, most of which touch on where political and decision-making power lies. Yet not only was the Law not implemented, an alternative was not given. One alternative is found in Law 775 (which by no means is perfect but is evidently better than no law at all) where the Council of Ministers is turned into the Regulatory Authority.

Without this law or some alternative, Lebanese cannot enjoy the benefits of wind power and no national wind power projects can be launched in the country. But waiting indefinitely is not an option. Therefore, Law 462 and its amendment or some alternative is bound to be established and the market is readying itself for this eventuality as the Council of Ministers have repeatedly stated since 2009.

Before the publication of the wind atlas, there were and still are Lebanese entrepreneurs who secured their respective land and began their due diligence in the form of putting up near hub-height wind anemometers and other pre-requisites for wind farm development. Some have even finished their studies and will be ready to plug a wind farm into the grid within 14 months should the green light or license be given.

The market in Lebanon is therefore technically ready but the central government needs to act first. Lebanon’s wind potential will not make it worthwhile to establish local manufacturing for the turbines, yet there may be other system components that can be locally sourced, such as foundation and tower elements, electronic components and cabling, and related civil works. Local employment is envisioned through the process of wind farm development and operation.

To start the process a licensing procedure is required. This procedure must be set by the Lebanese Regulatory Authority and it must include a safety protocol, construction timetables, environmental impact assessment acceptance, generation forecasting protocols and so forth. These need to be established, and it is hoped that the Regulatory Authority will hit the road running and ameliorate successful cases from outside Lebanon. We don’t need to invent the wheel but we definitely need to make it start turning.

Salah Tabbara is the General Manager at AlBina s.a.l. and acting Chairman at Sustainable Environmental Solutions – Beirut, Lebanon. Mr. Tabbara is on the board of several businesses and cultural associations in Lebanon.