Renewable Energy in MENA – It’s Future Potential

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Saudi Arabia's biggest ground-mounted photovoltaic plant located on the grounds of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) in Riyadh
Saudi Arabia's biggest ground-mounted photovoltaic plant located on the grounds of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) in Riyadh
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Saudi Arabia's biggest ground-mounted photovoltaic plant located on the grounds of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) in Riyadh
Saudi Arabia’s biggest ground-mounted photovoltaic plant located on the grounds of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) in Riyadh. Saudi hopes to generate 1/3 of its electricity through solar energy by 2032. Image credit-reve

“Within 6 hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes within a year” – Dr. Gerhard Knies

An energy rich region as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with one of the largest oil and gas reserves in the world may appear as the  most unlikely advocate for renewable sources of energy. And yet, with global economic recession, an unpredictable petroleum market and very favourable solar and wind conditions, the use of renewable energy as an alternative to hydrocarbon reserves, is gaining wide acceptance across the MENA region. MENA holds the greatest potential for renewable energy and yet it remains untapped and contributes only 1% of the region’s energy contribution. Interestingly, MENA stands to contribute to 45% of the world’s renewable energy resources. Thus, tapping renewable energy has not just environmental benefits but long term economic as well.

As the world is embracing renewable energy, the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) is also undergoing a major change in the wake of economic diversification programmes, the global recession and the Arab spring. The global business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan forecasts the demand for power to double and reach 215 Gigawatts (GW) by 2020. Although the GCC possesses 22.5 per cent of the world’s proven natural gas reserves and 35 per cent of the world’s proven oil reserves, these conventional fuel sources are not expected to match the pace of escalating power demand in coming years. Thus, to combat this growing demand, the GCC is reconsidering its energy mix and looking to incorporate renewable energy as a significant contributor. As per current plans announced for renewable energy adoption, there is a 25GW potential for the same in the GCC up to 2020.

Adoption of renewables is expected to yield multiple benefits for the GCC. Apart from industrial development, renewable energy will facilitate generating jobs for skilled personnel in this sector, and thereby reduce the high unemployment rate in the GCC. Currently, the GCC is burning up expensive oil and gas at highly subsidised rates to generate power. Renewable energy will help in potential export of these fuels at market rates, allowing for a windfall for the GCC countries.

Harnessing Renewable Resources in the Middle East and North Africa using concentrated Solar Power:

[tubepress video=”GIWeZQpZ5QE” theme=”youtube” embeddedHeight=”400″ embeddedWidth=”640″]

Highlighting the significance of moving away from conventional energy sources, Abhay Bhargava, Head, Energy & Power Systems Practice, Frost & Sullivan stated, “Utilising oil and gas alone, or diesel, has been an option to manage peak loads; however, it is not a long-term solution to meet energy demands. While nuclear energy is an option that can be considered, it is not feasible in the current decade. An exception, however, is the UAE, which has currently been implementing nuclear energy resources successfully. The demand-supply gap and abundant availability of sunlight as a resource in the GCC has led to solar power being considered as a viable energy source to meet emerging needs. In order to cater to peak loads, the GCC Governments have proposed new projects to mitigate ageing power infrastructure and support new diversification plans.”

The global energy mix is set to change with high growth anticipated for various renewable technologies. In the period 2010-2020, Frost & Sullivan forecasts wind energy to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16-20 per cent, solar photovoltaic (PV)-based generation to grow at a CAGR of 25 per cent, and concentrated solar power (CSP) to grow at a CAGR of approximately 40 per cent. Some key factors expediting this growth include heavy incentivisation of renewables by nations, enhanced bankability of renewable projects, and technology advancements that have resulted in enhanced efficiency and reduced costs.

While the GCC is fast making strides towards adoption of renewable energy, a customised and focused approach can create an environment that can further nurture its growth. Intermittency is a major issue with renewables, which is likely to hinder renewable sources from taking on the role of base load power generation. The GCC requires region-specific R&D, which it is currently lacking. Additionally, continued usage of subsidised hydrocarbons is the largest issue that needs to be addressed. With the GCC Governments supporting subsidised electricity and feedstock, renewable energy faces risk of losing its momentum.

Frost & Sullivan’s recent study on ‘Renewable Energy in the GCC‘, suggests that development of supporting infrastructure is perhaps the most critical pre-requisite for renewables in the GCC. It is also important for the GCC to work towards developing an appropriately localised value chain to ensure that only relevant components are manufactured in the GCC, capitalising on offerings available locally. In addition to manufacturing, it is also important to ensure that there is sufficient focus on developing storage systems and locally relevant R&D. Additionally, the GCC needs to re-evaluate policies and related framework, to ensure that it is appropriate for highly-customised requirements of renewables. Since the GCC boasts of some of the highest per capita energy consumption and emission statistics globally, Frost & Sullivan recommends educating the population on benefits of conservation and clean fuel, which in turn will help in building a bottom-up support for renewables.

According to Frost & Sullivan, renewables, through underlying benefits of employment opportunities, increased export potential of hydrocarbons, enhanced industrial development, and reduced dependence on fossil fuels, can prove to be the one key stabilising factor that can support the GCC’s plans for accelerated development.

Meanwhile, an interesting project by the name DESERTEC is currently being undertaken, which aims at creating a global renewable energy plan based on the concept of harnessing sustainable power from sites where renewable sources of energy are more abundant and transferring it through high-voltage direct current transmission to consumption centers.

Based on the scientific studies done by the German Aerospace Center, which demonstrated that the desert sun could meet rising power demand in the MENA region, whilst also helping to power Europe, reduce carbon emissions across the EU-MENA region and power desalination plants to provide freshwater to the MENA region. Dii GmbH published a further study called Desert Power 2050  in June 2012. It found that the MENA region would be able to meet its needs for power with renewable energy, while exporting its excess power to create an export industry with an annual volume of more than €60 billion. Meanwhile, by importing desert power, Europe could save around €30/MWh.

DESERTEC’s planned renewable energy projects in North Africa, and the Middle East.
DESERTEC’s planned renewable energy projects in North Africa, and the Middle East. Image credit- DESERTEC Foundation
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