Home Editorial A tight margin for maneuvering

A tight margin for maneuvering

by Yasser Akkaoui

Every time I return to Beirut from a meeting in the mountains, driving down during sunset, I marvel at the reflection of the sun from the growing number of solar panels on the city’s rooftops. They appear quite stunning and harmonious, as all these panels are pointing south to south-west for obvious reasons and stand as promises of a bright future that is built on renewable energy. 

Yet, I also know that these urban photovoltaic (PV) installations are isolated, individual projects of uneven quality and have been born out of emergency needs, like the majority of PV panels that today cover many of the country’s rooftops. While it may please our eyes from a distance and symbolize Lebanon’s adoption of an energy security focus, this display of renewable energy (RE) micro-systems is actually one of many contradictory post-crises images that construct the multilayered Lebanese reality as the country is shifting from one crisis to the next. 

It is hard to corroborate whether the annual one billion dollars spent on solar by Lebanese households and businesses is a realistic estimate or not, but one can safely suppose that these resources were disbursed by the wrong stakeholders out of need for a secure and reliable source of energy. 

It is also a fact that our country’s energy infrastructure today remains in dire straits, because the Lebanese government capex on energy and all other infrastructures has been diminishing since the early 2000s. Our electricity sector has for more than 20 years consistently been topping the list of problems that have drained our national financial resources and our private sector competitiveness. The absence of an energy security focus in our public sector policies has exasperated and precipitated Lebanon’s fall into the ongoing sticky financial crisis.

The mere fact that all this solar energy capacity is not connected to a national grid demonstrates again the complete disconnect between private initiatives and the state. With every state failure in addressing security whether medicine, economy, food, or energy citizens find themselves obliged to resort to short term, expensive solutions.

Meanwhile, the world is transitioning to more circular economic models. Call them inclusive models 2.0: these new models of economic circularity are built on a common understanding of public challenges and a collective participation in striving for ambitious impacts. Impacts that are as inclusive as they are profitable. Whether it is regulation-led Europe’s “Fit for 55” green transition package or the technology-led and private sector reliant US approach of carbon capture, both these pathways that contribute to energy security require a multi-stakeholder approach, one that mobilizes efforts from private sector policy and execution to measurement of progress with careful watch from civil society and media.

Lebanese households and businesses, in the absence of any constructive state role seem confined to a margin of maneuvering that is far from optimal, squandering precious resources that should have been spent on growth and job creation. 

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Yasser Akkaoui

Yasser Akkaoui is Executive's editor-in-chief.

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