A solar energy field in Algeria

The Potential for Renewable Energy in Libya

Aside from being very poorly managed, Libya’s energy sector is largely unsustainable. Electricity is generated mainly by burning natural gas — a finite and environmentally harmful source. To date, there has been little reliable research conducted in the field; at best, some estimates predict 30 years of oil production left, but the true reserves are unknown. In planning for Libya’s future, at some point there needs to be a managed shift away from oil fields to more sustainable options, but there has so far been little to no debate on the practical matters of rebuilding the country. No visible planning of a renewable energy sector has taken place, and references in Libyan media and discussion are simplistic – it is proudly touted that Libya has the financial resources to become a world-leader in the field, but no further depth is added. Despite the current impotence of the transitional government, these issues must be brought to the fore and debated, so that candidates for elections are compelled to consider them and develop strategies in order to win votes. Responsibility must be a product of the revolution – the future of the people is now in their own hands and they must behave accordingly.

One of the most important alternative energy sources to consider for the future is solar power. Despite the absolute lack of any previous development, it is hardly a new idea to the country; Libyan PhD students in the UK and elsewhere have for several years been studying its application to various fields such as powering water desalination plants.

Egypt’s Kuraymat solar power plant, which opened at the start of this year, could be taken as an example due to geographic proximity and climatic similarity. The 150 MW plant occupies an area of 130,000 m², and the cost to build is roughly the amount of income the oil industry provides every 3 days. Scores could be built in Libya’s 1.5 million km² of empty desert, and only 20 similarly-sized plants would produce 3GW of energy per year. This is to say nothing of the fact that the technology is developing rapidly and better, more efficient, and larger scale designs are available every year.

Even more ambitious ongoing projects include a 600 MW plant in California – 10 would create a quarter of Libya’s current energy requirements – or the unprecedented 2 GW Ordos solar park in China, which will produce a fifteenth of the entire Libyan energy usage when finished. Large-scale projects are not the only way solar power could be utilized. Small-scale domestic units could reduce dependency on the electricity grid for water heating, which accounts for approximately 10% of household electricity usage.

A study of Libyan wind

A solar energy field in Algeria

speeds in 2004 found that the average at 40 m altitude was 12-14 mph, a lower figure than in most countries that generate significant amounts of energy from the wind. The speeds could possibly be higher further offshore, where large wind farms could be created, however there remains the possibility for small-scale supplementary usage if large wind farms are uneconomical. Similarly, tidal energy also depends very much on the local conditions and no comprehensive studies have yet been carried out. An almost entirely empty coast of 1770 km exists, and this shows large potential if the conditions are suitable.


Geothermal energy is another small-scale growth area, but one which shows much promise. If new housing is built in such a way that it is not dependant on air-conditioners for cooling then this would greatly reduce energy consumption. This type of system has already been built and found extremely successful in Palestine, reducing home energy usage by as much as 70%. The University of Madaba in Jordan is currently building the largest geothermal energy system in the Middle East, which will save 130,000 litres of diesel fuel per year when it is finished, and the model is highly applicable to large buildings such as universities, schools and government facilities in Libya.

Libya’s energy usage in 2007 was approximately 26 GW, and projected population growth by 2030 is just over a third according to UN figures. Allowing for urbanization, increased industrial activity and a few energy-intensive projects such as a railway and water desalination plants, energy usage in 2030 could be estimated at around 40 GW. The renewable energy sources listed above could comfortably be producing a quarter of annual energy requirements by then, with the capability to produce much more. These figures are not predictions or estimates, simply exploratory calculations. They do not, however, appear to be unreasonable or unrealistic targets.

The governmental budget for 2012 is 68.5 billion dinars ($52.7bn) according to a statement from Prime Minister El-Keib’s office in February. Oil accounted for over 80% of the former government’s income, and given that there are plans to raise production (documents found in Tripoli indicate planning was underway to raise it to as high as 3m barrels per day), and considering the $180bn of frozen funds abroad awaiting release, it is well within financial possibility for an alternative energy infrastructure development program to take place parallel to reconstruction. None of this is escaping international energy companies; possibilities are already being savoured and investment will be easy to attract.

Libya has already been a net exporter of electricity before, with a partial grid connecting it to Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan. The development of renewable sources will increase energy output in a way that does not diminish the natural resources, allowing higher exports. It would also make exporting electricity to neighbouring states permanently viable, which would even make it possible for Libya to remain tax-free in a post-oil economy.

But the technological hurdle is normally the easiest to surmount; one that poses much more risk is the “western” problem. It is important to realize that the USA and western European countries have not yet themselves solved many of these problems. Therefore the paradigms of ‘developed’ countries should not be blindly adopted, as to do so would pretend ignorance of the massive changes in the world and developments in technology, as well as the unique circumstances. Rather than becoming a cheap imitation of a system that has already been shown to be flawed, it would be wise to formulate new solutions so that Libya becomes a model for future development or redevelopment of countries.

For politicians, it is not enough merely to desire development for Libya. There is a great difference in thought between those who imagine what Libya will be like and those who imagine what it will be. Independent thought is an essential quality in the ministers and decision-makers of the future, and the great responsibility of setting the foundations of our future state should not be given to conformists or dedicated protegées of the dominant but flawed global system.

The workplace culture is another obstacle, as most of the seasoned workforce has never experienced an environment in which initiative is rewarded or valued. Education is paramount in this issue, and the younger generation who are now entering the workplace must be prepared to create new ideas and re-develop the system. As well as including it in education, renewable energy concepts could also be introduced into the transport sector in order to raise its profile.

Public transport is an inevitable future development due to road overcrowding and various social issues related to high rates of private vehicle ownership, but this is an opportunity to develop a clean and sustainable transport network across the country. If courtesy vehicles are provided to civil servants of any rank they should be electric vehicles – aside from reducing the glamour of the job this would also greatly raise the profile of green issues in the public eye. With time the subsidies on vehicle imports could be re-targeted towards more environmentally friendly vehicles

Libya should keep in mind a new understanding of the requirements for sustainable existence and adopt new methods to meet its needs, ensuring that these issues remain at the forefront of discussion. Greater consideration of the future should be taken from the very start of planning, so that instead of ending up in an uneconomical struggle to undo decades of damage and perform major renovation on an entire established economy, it is planned in a future-friendly way from the beginning, based on sustainable growth and clean energy. If this happens, there is no reason Libya could not be the world’s leading clean economy in 20 years.


[Photo Credit: Magharebia / Creative Commons]

7 Responses to “The Potential for Renewable Energy in Libya”
  1. University_friend says:

    Well done :)

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  3. ahmed madi says:

    just got round to reading this – fascinating stuff, eloquently written! how about an arabic translation, perhaps?

  4. A Boulsien says:

    Wonderful article but you missed the second most important driver of this industry in Libya (other than inherent expertise) which is the economics of the industry. The huge growth in Europe and the US was driven by subsidies which allowed the private sector to invest in projects with virtually guaranteed 10-14% annual returns. How do you propose the sector is financed? How much is required? Will there be a subsidy system to encourage the private sector? What legal frameworks are required to allow for and protect private investors? How much infrastructure is required to connect the solar networks to the grid? What pricing system is recommended for consumers?

    If you can assist in answering these questions postiively, then we have a viable path to developing the sector.

    Good luck.

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