Oil-rich Gulf states look to the sun (Feature)
By Cam McGrath Apr 27, 2010, 3:06 GMT
Abu Dhabi - The Middle East continues to dominate the world's petroleum production, but by the end of the decade the region could also be a leader in solar power generation.
'The potential (for this) region is huge,' said Helene Pelosse, director general of the International Renewable Energy Authority (IRENA).
'Each square kilometre of land in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region receives every year an amount of solar energy that is equivalent to 1.5 million barrels of crude oil,' she told the German Press Agency dpa.
Despite abundant sunshine, Arab nations have been slow to embrace solar technologies, in part because many already have enormous reserves of fossil fuels and longstanding energy subsidies. But priorities appear to be shifting.
Pelosse says peak oil concerns and growing electricity demand are driving the search for renewable energy sources. A shift in energy patterns also makes economic sense.
'By producing and using renewable energy, (these countries) can establish powerful industries, which in turn create new jobs, provide for the after-oil era and reach their national greenhouse gas emission goals,' she told dpa.
'The earlier high investments in renewable energies can be attracted, the better for the economy.'
Morocco, which has no oil production of its own to speak of, recently unveiled a 9-billion-dollar project to produce 2,000 megawatts (MW) per year of solar power by 2020. Five solar power stations would produce 38 percent of the country's total power generation.
Jordan is looking to produce 7 per cent of its energy requirements through renewable sources 2015; Abu Dhabi 7 per cent by 2020, and Kuwait 5 per cent by 2020. Egypt has announced a goal of 20 percent renewable power by 2020, though less than two percent would come from solar energy.
Fueling the MENA region's solar ambitions are plans for concentrated solar power (CSP) stations, which have lower capital costs than large-scale photovoltaic (PV) generation.
Algeria is nearing completion of the world's first operational integrated solar combined cycle (ISCC) power station. The 150 MW plant at Hassi R'Mel is expected to go online in October. Egypt and Morocco are slated to complete their own ISCC projects by the end of the year.
ISCC plants combine a solar field with a gas-fired turbine to increase the efficiency of steam turbine electricity generators. Most designs generate less than 15 per cent of their energy from the solar component.
The Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) has unveiled the most advanced CSP project in the region. The Shams 1 project will employ a field of parabolic troughs, but instead of focusing the sun's energy onto fluid-filled pipes, the mirrors will concentrate sun rays on a receiver filled with molten salt.
The pilot plant will test a modified tower design to generate up to 100 kilowatts (kW) of power.
Large solar projects are also underway in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Tunisia. Masdar is building a 22-billion-dollar carbon-neutral city in the desert near Abu Dhabi to be powered entirely by renewable energies including solar power.
A similar concept is behind Qatar's 2.6-billion-dollar Energy City project, a green energy business district scheduled for completion by 2012.
More ambitious still are the Mediterranean Solar Plan and Desertec schemes, which envision dozens of CSP stations spread across North Africa that will generate surplus electricity for export to Europe.
'The idea is to collect electricity from the place where the resource is best and most economical, then transport it to the place where it is needed,' explains Hani El-Nokraschy, vice president of Desertec Foundation's supervisory board.
'Transporting electricity is much cheaper than producing it from poor resources.'
The massive investment projects could jump-start a transformation in the energy economies of the region.
'Even self-sufficient oil producers would have a chance to make the electricity they need for domestic consumption from the sun,' El-Nokraschy said. 'And instead of pumping oil and burning it to make electricity, they could sell it on the world market for a higher profit.'