GROWTH OF SOLAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST

When we talk about the Middle East, we usually associate it with oil since it is one of the largest oil-producing regions in the world. Multiple wars and crises have broken out due to this single factor. But, it is surprising and refreshing to learn that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is now trying to make amends by moving to cleaner and safer sources of energy, renewables. While several other regions, like Europe, America, Japan, China, etc. are turning towards more eco-friendly resources, this move by a major oil-producing region is a shocking, yet impactful one.

Why Does The Middle East Want To Shift To Renewables Like Solar?

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For several decades, the Middle East was skeptical about moving to renewable energy. The region was comparatively slower in adopting solar energy. So, what exactly has changed?

Most of the regions in the Middle East are well suited to tap into renewables, especially solar, because of the abundance of sunlight throughout the year. The key factors for this recent change are:

  1. To be at par with other nations and move towards a greener place; the demographic challenges, low oil prices, and steady depletion of non-renewable energy sources like natural gas and oil have accelerated this move. 
  2. The prices of solar installation and manufacturing of solar plants have been declining over the past couple of years. This has certainly boosted the growth of usage of solar energy in the region, especially in regions like Morocco, Egypt, UAE, and Kuwait. 
  3. The socio-economic growth because of the increased capacity of solar energy has definitely elevated, and in turn, created thousands of jobs for people in the region. 

How Has Solar Energy Penetrated The Markets Of The Middle East?

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The Middle East is comprised of Saudi Arabia and its five Gulf Cooperation Council partners (Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and UAE), MENA comprises of the five African nations of the Mediterranean (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt) and the Levant states of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine. Together, these nations have a population of about 321 million people, and on par with the United States covering land; equivalent to Europe. 

According to a blog post by General Electric (GE), 2014 was a breakthrough year for solar in the Middle East with 30 projects receiving contracts, including 12 new solar sites in Jordan alone. Also, according to Ernst & Young’s latest Cleantech Survey, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Morocco, and Jordan have the greatest potential for renewable energy investment in the region

Countries like Jordan and Oman are highly dependent on fossil fuels and natural gas, and these are 97% of the time imported from their neighbouring counterparts of the Middle East regions. Regions like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are tapping into the largest resource available to them – an unlimited supply of sunshine. 

How Did Solar Energy Grow In The Middle East In The Last Couple Of Years?

Solar power is on the rise everywhere, especially at times where switching to renewable energy is imperative. The Middle East’s solar energy market is rising rapidly every progressing year. The MENA comprises 22 countries, which accounts for approximately 6% of the world’s total area. The Middle East is also home to one of the largest oil beds in the world (60% of oil approximately), which typically infers that the Middle East exports oil to most nations in the world. 

The revolutionary movement came into place when Saudi Arabia announced that it was raising funds to spend $109 billion on solar energy, in a push to secure a third of its electricity from renewable sources, especially solar by 2032. In March 2013, Abu Dhabi began operating the world’s largest solar power plant, Shams 1 (In Arabic, Shams translates to the sun). Also, in July 2014, Dubai’s ruler and VP of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, launched the UAE Water Aid Foundation. It’s a part of the ruler’s greater efforts to bring in water security to the water quenched land to UAE. The initiative helps draw up a sustainable solution that uses solar power to produce clean and freshwater to millions of people.

The UAE ruler was a major influencer in the opening of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar park, which is the largest single-site solar installation in the world and covers 77 square acres, that produces about 700 MW of power.

What Does The Future Hold For Solar In The Middle East?

Because of the abundance of sunlight and a vast stretch of land, the Middle East has a high potential for solar power production. The geographical and demographical challenges make the Middle East and North Africa a viable option for the solar energy market. The steady declination in the manufacturing and installation of solar power generation, especially photovoltaic cells, makes the technology not just affordable, but also a major cause for the installation of solar plants throughout the region. 

According to a report released by IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency) in Abu Dhabi on January 2019, it says that solar photovoltaic (PV) technology is the “most competitive form of power generation”. The report also noted that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries plan to install a total of 7 GW new power generation capacity from renewable sources by the early 2020s. 

The investment in renewable energy sources is picking up steadily in the last couple of years, resulting in leaps of growth in the region’s economy and their overall energy requirements. According to the World Bank, “primary energy demand in the region is expected to continue to rise at an annual rate of 1.9 per cent through 2035”.

The UAE is directing its non-renewable sources of energy into alternative energy sources. By 2030, it plans to spend $160 billion on renewables, with the declared aim of generating two-thirds of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050. 

Considering the current spend of oils on the generation of electricity, vehicular movements, and other major components, the Gulf is in an increased demand of shifting to sustainable energy sources. For example, Saudi Arabia consumes about two-three million barrels per day of oil domestically. In a rare interview, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed appeared to have embraced this change. “In 50 years, when we might have the last barrel of oil I can tell you we will celebrate that moment”, he said. 

The Middle East may be politically fractured, but they all agree on the fact that the current energy and power needs must be met by using renewable sources of energy at the earliest. A large portion of the Middle East is well placed to abuse the potential of solar energy, given the clear blue skies and hot sun which dominates most of the year. For the longest time, the Middle East was skeptical about adopting solar energy. But the trend clearly seems to be changing as current rulers decide to jump to renewables completely as quickly as possible. 

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