Mélanie Rateau a présenté deux des terrains d’Hybridelec dans le cadre de la demi-journée “Le stockage de l’énergie électrique. Potentielles applications des nouveaux systèmes et retours sur les terrains” du 12 septembre 2018 à Champs sur Marne, organisée par le GT “Ville et énergie” du Labex Futurs Urbains.
Le diaporama “Stockage de l’électricité: la nouvelle solution anti-pénurie? Retours d’Ibadan et de Cotonou” est issu de sa recherche doctorale, dont les terrains ont bénéficié du soutien de l’ANR Hybridelec, de l’IFRA à Ibadan et de l’IRD à Cotonou.
Eric Verdeil (EV): Until recently, the prolific urban research on Beirut and Lebanese cities ignored, almost entirely, issues related to networked infrastructure, a very strange fact given the magnitude of infrastructure deficiencies in the country. Only recently have scholars (like Ziad Abu-Rish or Joanne R. Nucho, for example) begun to address infrastructure related issues, particularly as they relate to electricity. Water management also remains mostly out of the scope of urban scholarship in Lebanon, which has instead concentrated on reconstruction, housing, and urban conflict. Additionally, questions regarding waste management and sanitation have also remained largely absent from the research. This article addresses these three ongoing infrastructure crises in the Greater Beirut.
The article was initially a response to the call for papers launched by Hannes Baumann and Jamil Mouawad, under the title “Wayn al-Dawla? In search of the Lebanese state.” Baumann and Mouawad’s idea was to challenge the common (and somewhat lazy) notion of a weak state in Lebanon. They highlighted the inputs of mid-range theories that show how state institutions are part of a wider landscape of powers that interact with the state, often displaying “hybrid sovereignties.” Baumann and Mouawad personally chose to analyze the Central Bank and the Lebanese Army in the light of Marxist and Foucaldian approaches, thus showing how the state is at times able to reconfigure local capitalism, or to produce a “state effect,” for instance, in Akkar. They suggested that I write about electricity and the state in Lebanon, specifically about the fact that electricity has become the paradoxical symbol of the existence/absence of the state: “ejit al dawleh,” say the people when the electricity comes back after a power cut. Due to lengthy revisions on both sides, the article eventually appeared one year after the theme issue was released.
For me, it was also an opportunity to translate and adapt the results of a research project I had undertaken about the governance of urban infrastructure in Beirut in the framework of a project led by sociologist Dominique Lorrain on Mediterranean Metropolises. The general objective of this research was to take seriously the materiality of the city, including infrastructure, and to test the hypothesis that even when political institutions fail to govern the city, as seen when violent conflicts erupt, infrastructure provides some minimal level of consensus and agreement that allows for urban life to go on. At first glance, this hypothesis was far from obvious in the case of Beirut, but it provided an interesting chance to understand where the Lebanese state is when infrastructure fails.
Eric Verdeil’s analysis of electricity subsidies in Lebanon is featured on the website of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies.
While the recent political showdown over where to connect the Esra Gul barge to Lebanon’s power grid is indicative of the country’s unequal electricity supply, it also unearthed something more fundamental, namely, how electricity subsidies exacerbate geographical and social inequalities. Indeed, one major problem facing Electricité Du Liban (EDL) concerns the fact that production costs exceed revenues from consumers. For many years, the difference has been covered/subsidized by the state but these subsidies impact citizens differently depending on where they reside.
More precisely, because the periphery have access to a smaller supply of electricity per day, they incur greater generator use costs than those living in the central agglomeration, particularly municipal Beirut. Consequently, my recent study demonstrates that effective subsidies disproportionately benefit wealthier households and in particular those who live in Beirut, as the latter are supplied with more power on a daily basis compared to other regions. Therefore, electricity subsidies exacerbate both geographical and social inequalities.
While the production cost of electricity—indexed to the international hydrocarbon market—has significantly increased since 1994, prices have not been reevaluated in that period. According to the National Electricity Strategy Plan of 2010, the price represented on average only 55% of the production cost per kilowatt hour. While the price structure should reflect a principle of fairness and employ progressive rates designed to ease the burden for small consumers—among whom are the country’s poorest people—a 2009 World Bank study reported the opposite. In fact, fixed costs added onto an EDL bill resulted in small consumers (who use up to 300 kilowatt hours) paying disproportionately more of their income toward energy bills than larger users. Practically, the more they consume, the more users are subsidized by the state. This is not an open and deliberate subsidy, but rather a largely unseen mechanism at work.
In fact, the study highlights geographic variances that result from the length of time that power is supplied. This adds an essential component to the distortion caused by this effective subsidy. Since 2006-2007, Beirut has received on average nineteen to twenty-one hours of electricity per day, while other regions have received only twelve to fifteen hours if not less (depending on the time of year and in which year data was gathered). The capital’s residents use more public electricity by default and consequently benefit more from subsidies.
Read the end of the article on the LCPS website. The translation of this article has been made possible thanks to the financial support of AFD.
A French longer version, including the detailed data, is to be read on Rumor, Eric Verdeil’s own blog.