Why the Syrian regime needs to switch to renewable energy?
Enab Baladi – Jana Al-Issa
In recent months, the Syrian regime has demonstrated a clear interest in renewable energy projects. It has established a fund to boost the use of renewable energy, on one hand, and increased the prices of electricity in an attempt to force merchants and industrialists to set up renewable energy projects as an alternative for electricity, on the other hand.
The Syrian regime’s Ministry of Electricity also canceled 38 permits for companies and investors in renewable energies. The ministry revoked the permits because the companies and investors did not take any serious steps to implement their projects within the agreed period, even though they obtained their permits between 2017 and 2020.
To ensure that investors in renewable energies obtain “good quality products,” the Syrian government agreed to allow private-sector companies to set up laboratories intended to examine renewable energy imports.
The Syrian government’s increasing interest in alternative energies, portraying them as “the magic solution” to the electricity problem in Syria, has raised several questions: Does the Syrian regime seek to obtain certain benefits that it does not want to declare? Or has the regime finally realized its inability to secure Syria’s need for electricity?
To ease the burden on government
Syrian economist and researcher at the Middle East Institute in Washington Karam Shaar pointed out that the Syrian government supports renewable energy projects to lessen the burden of subsidies and production expenses that it has incurred for many years.
Shaar told Enab Baladi that the current government’s problem in this sector does not lie in its ability to produce electricity but mainly due to its inability to secure the quantities of fuel needed to operate the current power stations.
Shaar pointed out that electricity production costs in their current form and support costs are “very high” for the government.
He added that the Syrian government could no longer afford these financial costs. That’s why the government is encouraging the introduction of renewable energy sources in its areas of control on the one hand and raising electricity prices on the other hand.
Economic researcher Khaled Tarkawi also confirmed that the Syrian government is shifting to renewable energies because it does not have enough fuel supplies to generate electricity.
Tarkawi told Enab Baladi that today’s government “has become completely unable to manage the country and provide daily basic services.”
On 1 November, the Syrian regime’s Ministry of Electricity issued a decision to raise electricity prices in most of its segments at varying rates, ranging between 100 percent and 800 percent.
The ministry justified its decision to raise electricity prices by saying that it wanted to “stimulate” subscribers to rely on renewable energy sources, cover part of the electricity consumption, cut financial losses of electricity institutions, and provide financial liquidity for operating electric power systems constantly.
The Director of Planning and International Cooperation in the Ministry of Electricity, Adham Ballan, considered that the increase came to “preserve the electricity sector,” as its annual costs amount to 5.3 trillion pounds, and its revenues, based on the previous prices, were not more than 300 billion pounds.
According to Ballan, revenues will further increase with the new prices by about 600 billion pounds. He added, “however, the annual deficit in the electricity sector remains at 4.6 trillion pounds.”
A “fake” depiction of the legislative grip
The Syrian Ministry of Electricity’s decision to increase electricity prices came after the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, promulgated a law to create “a fund to support the use of renewable energies and increase energy efficiency.”
The fund’s main objectives are to encourage energy consumers to use renewable energy sources and enhance the contribution of renewable energies to the target levels in accordance with the law.
Economic researcher Khaled Tarkawi divides “the hidden” gains of the Syrian regime that renewable energy projects could bring about into two categories: significant gains and sub-gains.
The main gains that the regime reaps in the renewable energies sector, according to Tarkawi, is the presentation of itself as “holding its legislative and legal grip over this sector.”
Tarkawi added that the regime, by making decisions concerning alternative energies, whether by creating a support fund or creating laboratories to test products, is trying to prove that it works to secure people’s basic needs(electricity).
Tarkawi also believes that the Syrian regime, through these decisions, wants to send an image to investors(including its allies: the Russians, Iranians, and Chinese) and a number of Syrian companies which have close ties with the regime, that it has “viable” investment markets in this sector controlled by “well-studied” laws.
The Syrian regime uses the issue of renewable energies to promote “fake solutions” to the electricity crisis. The regime claims that if many companies invest in renewable energy projects, this will create new job opportunities.
Syrian regime supporters are not willing to invest
According to a study titled “Syria’s Electricity Sector After a Decade of War” prepared by Syrian researchers Sinan Hatahet and Karam Shaar, the use of renewable energies declined even before the Syrian revolution broke out.
The study, which was published in the Middle East Studies Center last September, showed that “renewable energy use was falling even before the conflict, from 20% in the early 1990s to 5% as the conflict began. With the continued slowdown in water flow from Turkey and the failure to fix hydroelectric turbines, hydro sources contributed only 2% of public supply in 2020. While the government has made it easier for private investors to participate in the green electricity sector, especially wind and solar energy, their contribution remains negligible.”
The study also stated that even though “there have been many talks and multiple memoranda of understanding in the electricity sector,” the Syrian government has regained only a “very small percentage” of the electricity production capacity.
The study indicated that the main supporters of the Syrian government, Russia and Iran, did not display a willingness to follow through on the signed agreements “due to the government’s inability to secure funding.”
Quality control with private funds and government supervision
Younes Ali, the general director of the National Energy Research Centre, said last July that there is no quality control over renewable energy imports in areas controlled by the Syrian regime.
Ali added that many devices entered the local Syrian markets by unknown means. Moreover, they “are not registered at the center.”
The quality of these imported products was supposed to be tested by the relevant government bodies. However, the private companies had to carry out this task due to the “very high” cost of renewable energy testing laboratories and the inability of the National Energy Research Centre to afford that cost. This will be done under government supervision to “ensure impartiality and accurate results.”
The promotion of importing renewable energy products and the start-up of renewable energy business began just after Bashar al-Assad’s inauguration speech. In May 2021, Bashar al-Assad took the oath of office for a fourth term in war-ravaged Syria after taking 95 percent of the vote in a controversial election dismissed abroad. During the speech, al-Assad talked about the importance of investing in renewable energies.
Since that talk, officials and pro-regime media outlets have started promoting alternative energy as the “savior” and “bearer of the future of the economy” in Syria.
At the time, al-Assad promised to encourage investment in renewable energy and support it through policies or legislation, with the aim of launching power generation projects by the private or public sector or in partnership between them.
Syrian citizens can turn to use alternative energy to solve the problem of lack of electricity amid the Syrian government’s failure to meet their needs. Nonetheless, many Syrians cannot afford that due to the deteriorating economic and living conditions.
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