Turkish barges power a quarter of Lebanon's electricity

Turkish barges power a quarter of Lebanon's electricity
Lebanon has introduced three Turkish power barges as a 'temporary' measure as the country continues to face daily power cuts.
3 min read
22 July, 2018
Lebanon is experiencing an electricity crisis [Getty]

Lebanon has been buying electricity from Turkish barges docked off-shore as the bankrupt national power company have been unable to build new power plants amid daily power cuts. 

Last week, Lebanon received its third floating power station - the 235-megawatt Esra Sultan, built and operated by the privately owned Turkish Karadeniz Energy Group. Lebanese Energy and Water Minister Cesar Abi Khalil billed it as a temporary but thrifty measure to reduce part of Lebanon’s electricity deficit.

Esra Sultan is the third power ship to dock in Lebanon since 2013. Lebanon recently extended its contract with Karadeniz to ensure that at least two of the barges will continue serving the country for another one to three years.

Lebanon's residents have suffered from blackouts since the 1975-1990 civil war, with people setting their routines around three-hour cuts. Outside the capital, the outages can last up to 12 hours or more.

Electricity from the Karadeniz barges costs more than producing it on land but less than the fees private operators charge for backup power during the daily outages.

Private operators can charge anywhere from four to eight times more than the state-owned electricity company.

Generator providers raised their subscription fees this summer, citing lengthier outages and the rising price of fuel. The hikes are pricing some regular subscribers out of the market, fuelling resentment that’s been directed at both the providers and politicians.

Lebanon's state-owned power company, Electricité Du Liban, is producing just 2,050 megawatts of electricity, or less than two-thirds of the summer demand, according to the energy ministry.

Abi Khalil, the minister, said that refugees from neighbouring war-torn Syria has further strained Lebanon's power sector.

The UN has registered more than 1 million Syrian refugees since 2011, an estimated one-fifth of Lebanon's population. They draw approximately 500 megawatts of power from the grid, according to a joint 2017 energy ministry and UN study.

There are more than 7,000 private providers operating in Lebanon, according to the national syndicate Generateur du Liban, and many insist they’re filling a vital gap in the country's services.

In 2013, the country contracted its first two power ships from Karadeniz as a stopgap measure to keep lights on until the country could build new power plants.

The plants never materialised.

A 500-megawatt generating station that was supposed to have been built by 2015 is now expected to go online in 2020.

Instead, the barges, Fatmagul Sultan and Orhan Bey, were upgraded in 2016 to provide 37 percent more power. Then, this year, the energy ministry contracted with Karadeniz to keep the barges for another three years.

As a "goodwill gesture", Karadeniz said, the company delivered the third barge, Esra Sultan.

Together, the three Turkish barges provide a quarter of Lebanon's generation capacity. Two of the barges are in Jiyeh, a popular surfing spot south of the capital, and while they can be powered by natural gas, Lebanon has been fuelling them with the cheaper, but dirtier fuel oil.