The Rise of ‘Renewable Energy’ in the Arab World
By: Pamela Dimitrova / Arab America Contributing Writer
As the topic of climate change grows more prominent in the media, many governments have decided to take action. States are seeking different ways of transforming natural resources, such as wind, water, and sunlight into renewable energy, including many Arab countries. The increasing population size and economic development in the Arab World have led to an increase in overall energy needs. And while the region remains heavily dependent on natural gas and oil, renewable energy offers an important opportunity to diversify the countries’ energy needs.
Currently, in the UAE, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are engaged in a solar “competition.” The Noor Abu Dhabi (which is Arabic for “the light of Abu Dhabi”) solar plant was officially opened back in June, as part of Energy Strategy 2050. This is “a program launched in 2017, which goals are to increase the contribution of clean energy in the total energy mix to 50 percent in 2050 while reducing the carbon footprint of power generation by 70 percent.”
It consists of 3.2 million solar panels, with a capacity of 1.17 gigawatts in a single location, enough to supply the needs of 90,000 people and reduce the carbon footprints by 1 million metric tons per year.
The emirate of Dubai is also working on an ambitious project – “Noor Energy 1.” It will produce an estimated capacity of 950 megawatts and a power storage system that will keep the lights of the city shining up to 15 hours after sunset. The project is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2020 as part of the “Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050,” which aims to achieve 75% of Dubai’s power generation from clean energy sources by 2050.
Another Arab country is aiming to become a world leader in renewable energy. The “Noor-Ouarzazate” complex is the largest existing concentrated solar power plant: it was built on 3,000 hectares of land at the getaway to the Sahara Desert and it reduces the carbon footprint by 760,000 tonnes each year. The unique technology uses 12-meter-tall parabolic mirrors to focus energy onto a fluid-filled pipeline. The heat from the fluid is stored in a tank of molten salts, providing energy even at nighttime or when clouds obscure the sun.
The energy provides up to three hours of power, according to the World Bank, which financed the construction of the plant with a $400 million loan.
Morocco has one of the most ambitious energy targets in the world – their goal is to satisfy 42 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020 and 52 percent by 2030. The country was also named the fourth-best country in the fight against climate change by Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI.)
CCPI also listed Saudi Arabia, this time on the bottom of the list since it has very low performance in all categories. However, the kingdom intends to invest billions in renewable energy sources as part of the project “Vision 2030.” Its intentions include developing 59 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity in the next 10 years, including 40 gigawatts of photovoltaic solar power, 3 gigawatts of concentrated solar power, and 16 gigawatts of wind power. In order to achieve these goals, the state will work with the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund and the Public Investment Fund (PIF.) There is also the possibility of a deal with Japan’s Softbank to develop its solar power capabilities.
Other countries in the Arab world have also been integrating different technologies and methods of renewing energy. Egypt, for example, is the proud owner of the largest wind farm in Africa. The farms aim to provide power to 50,000 people by generating 800 million kilowatt-hours annually. It will also reduce carbon emissions up to 400,000 tonnes.
In the latest edition of the Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy (RISE), a report detailing the policies for sustainable energy in different countries, Egypt and Tunisia have been listed among the world’s fastest developers in ‘renewable energy’ between 2010 and 2017. Specifically, Egypt’s points went from 10 to 68 in just seven years, becoming one of the top 36 countries in the world.
Tunisia, on the other hand, has already launched two tenders, both of which are part of the government plan to install around 1 GW of renewable energy capacity in the period 2017-2020.
Other Arab countries are pursuing solar and wind projects, including Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, and Algeria.
However, there are still a number of challenges for developing renewable energy technologies in the region, mainly being the need to store energy when sunlight is unavailable. Most of the solar farms are vulnerable to sandstorms that leave the solar panels in need of cleaning. In other countries, where oil and natural gas are still the main energy sources, it is difficult for renewables to compete on price.
Most of the Arab countries have made significant growth in their effort to fight climate change by using both environmental advantages, such as geographical location, and governments’ experience in managing infrastructure development — a useful combination for expanding renewable energy production. The sector is likely to expand quickly in the area under the pressure of the media and international organizations, pushing some of these countries as world leaders in the development of sustainable energy.
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