November/December preview: Riddle of the sands

Renewable Energy Focus

The Middle East has huge potential for solar power. Now there are hopes of solving the myriad problems that bedevil progress in the region.

This article excerpt is taken from the forthcoming issue of Renewable Energy Focus magazine (November/December issue). To register to receive a digital copy click here.

For many years, both industry and governments in the Middle East have been touting the potential for solar energy in the region. 

On paper, the case is easily made. Parts of the Middle East constitute the so-called ‘Sun Belt’ – 30 or fewer cloudy days per year and 100mm or less annual rainfall. Couple that with Middle Eastern cities building new infrastructure at rapid rates and an energy supply profile which provides a convenient overlap (peak energy supply driven by the requirement for air-conditioners in the hottest hours matched to the sunniest hours of the day), and the region and solar power appear a perfect match. 

In reality though, investors have found significant barriers which have hampered development and meant that, as a result, the Middle East has not been able to compete with more established solar markets in Europe and elsewhere. 

Solar projects

Middle Eastern governments are, for their part, now encouraging the consideration of solar projects through their renewable energy targets and intentions to focus on solar energy. The region has also seen some successful larger scale projects, such as the Shams 1 project in Abu Dhabi, that aim to show such projects are feasible. 

One of the contributing factors in the drive towards renewables has been the increasing domestic consumption of energy sources. Middle Eastern governments have seen declining exports and, for some, decreased petrodollars, which pose a risk to their economies. Electricity production is the most energy intensive industry in these countries and is mostly produced from fossil fuels. Furthermore, around 99% of water is produced from desalination, another energy consuming process which works mainly on gas feeds. 

With depleting oil and gas reserves, and export quotas and commitments to fulfil, it has become vital for countries in the Middle East to diversify and look to renewable sources for power and water production. However, the barriers that companies faces when looking to invest in solar projects have not been removed. 

Nevertheless, the past few years have been an exciting period for renewables in the Middle East. Announcements by a number of governments saw targets introduced: at least 10% of energy from sustainable sources by 2020 in Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia; 5% of energy from clean sources by 2030 in Dubai; and 7% of energy from solar and renewable sources by 2030 in Abu Dhabi.

For the rest of the article, subscribe to Renewable Energy Focus magazine - the November/December issue will be published in a few weeks.

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Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity  •  Wind power