Solar Expansion in the Middle East

published: 2011-12-20 18:00 | editor: | category: Analysis

Even with the political changes happening in the Middle East, there are significant large-scale renewable energy projects moving forward for both local power generation, as well as for power export to EU.

The Middle East experiences its peak energy demand at the same time solar resources are at their highest, meaning the region could then export more fuel and generate higher revenue instead of pumping that fuel oil into electric power plants. For both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, demand for electricity is about 3-4GW higher during peak demand. Kuwait aims to generate 10 percent of its electricity from sustainable sources by 2020, and Abu Dhabi has set a goal of 7 percent.

World electricity demand is expected to grow 2.2 percent a year from 2008 to 2035, according to a December 2011 forecast from the International Energy Agency. That means an increase in world energy consumption of 53 percent by 2035. Domestic energy consumption in most Middle East nations has more than doubled in the last 10 years meaning that the oil producing Gulf nations need to generate more electricity to meet demand that’s growing an average of 10 percent a year, according to Jarmo Kotilaine, chief economist at National Commercial Bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is made up of the political and economic union of the Arab states bordering the Persian Gulf, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. Although the GCC nations have been slower than countries in the development of solar technologies, the region is expected to see a solar boom over the next decade. Speaking at the 2nd GCC French Economic forum in October 2011, Dr. Khalid Klefeekh Al Hajri, GCC Board Member and CEO of Qatar Solar Technologies, said "The GCC countries are blessed with abundant energy reserves both above and below the surface. We have tapped the energy that lies below us in the form of our oil and gas deposits and we are now looking upwards to the sun to tap its unlimited energy potential. The possibilities are endless."

With that in mind, a number of solar projects have hit the ground running:

  • Two international consortiums led by German and French industrial giants joined forces to deploy solar power in arid Arab regions, and sink cables across the Mediterranean.
  • Two major polysilicon production projects are being developed in the region.
  • Dubai, the second-largest sheikhdom in the U.A.E., has announced plans for the emirate’s first utility-scale solar plant.
  • Masdar, a $22 billion renewable energy company owned by Abu Dhabi, has solar plants already and started building a low carbon-emitting green city.
  • Qataris one of the first U.A.E. oil producers in the Middle East to seek United Nations credits for alternative energy projects.
  • Solar use within the Gulf nations will skyrocket within the next decade which will require qualified solar Industry professionals.

Desertec Industry Initiative

Desertec Industrial Initiative, known as Dii, was just a vision a few years ago. Today, it has emerged as a $500-billion solar project to tap Middle East and North African sun power with a chain of power plants to power 15 percent of Europe. Dii has 56 partners in 15 countries, including German industry giant Siemens, Deutsche Bank, and power supplier EON, and has already initiated financing on their first 500MW solar power plant near Ouarzazat in central Morocco to provide power for Arab and European nations. That power plant will first cover the energy needs of countries in the region and then export energy to Europe.

At the Second annual Dii conference in Cairo during the first week of November 2011, more than 55 companies and institutions - including the non-profit Desertec Foundation, the Frauenhofer institute, and Max-Planck research institute - gathered to share knowledge concerning the challenges of financing and long-distance grid transmission of future projects. During the conference, Germany’s Secretary of State re-enforced his country’s commitment to phase-out nuclear power by 2022 and invest in Dii. And Egypt’s Minister of Electricity and Energy, H.E. Dr. Hassan Younes, said that Egypt was formulating new laws that will promote transparency and incentives to invest in renewable energy.

On November 24th, 2011, Desertec and Medgrid signed an agreement in Brussels, during an EU energy ministers' meeting, to strengthen co-operation on building the huge power grid needed to export up to 5GW of power to Europe. Medgrid, founded by French energy giants Areva and EDF, along with engineering group Alstom, plans to install underwater cables between Europe and Africa via the Strait of Gibraltar. The EU is also backing the project as part of its efforts to meet 15 percent of Europe's electricity demand by 2050.


Sun-drenched Kuwait, OPEC's fifth-biggest oil producer, has set the most ambitious target for using renewable energy in the Gulf region: 10 percent of its electricity from sustainable sources by 2020. The bottom line is that Kuwait is trying to free up more of its oil for export while expanding its electricity generation capacity with an eye on supporting an increase in tourism, manufacturing, and home building as part of an overall $112-billion development program.

Egypt’s Concentrating Solar Power

Since July 2011, Egypt’s 150-MW Kuraymat hybrid solar-gas power plant south of Cairo has been feeding energy into their grid. At night electricity is generated by the natural gas powered generators, while during the day a 1,900-square meter solar thermal field using parabolic trough technology converts sun energy captured into steam-powered electricity. Egyptis currently planning a 100MW concentrated solar power plant project as part of its Egyptian National Plan for 2012-17. The country’s follow-up National Plan for 2018-2022 has another 2,550 MW worth of CSP on the drawing board as well.

Abu Dhabi’s Renewable Vision

In October 2011, Gulf International Trading Group finished installing PVs at the court of HH Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi – one of the world’s most oil-rich nations. Connecting the Court’s PVs to Abu Dhabi’s grid is just one step Abu Dhabi has taken to fulfill its 2030 plan to become “the sustainable capital of the world.”

Solarcentury, named "Britain's fastest growing energy company," teamed up with Enviromena Power Systems, the leading developer of solar projects in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in January 7, 2010, to deliver solar to the United Arab Emirates. Enviromena has already installed the largest grid connected solar plant in the Middle East: the Masdar 10MW solar power plant. Masdar City is now constructing the 100MW Shams One solar project, one of the largest CSP projects of its kind in the world and the largest in the Middle East. The project is scheduled to be completed in late 2012.

Polysilicon Production in Qatar and Saudi Arabia

Polysilicon production projects are an important step in establishing the renewable energy industry in the region as a whole, and at least two major projects are moving ahead:

  • Saudi Arabia: GT Advanced Technologies Inc. announced in late October 2011 that it has received a $47.7-million order for polysilicon production equipment and technology from Polysilicon Technology Company (PTC), based in Saudi Arabia. PTC is an equal joint venture between Mutajadedah Energy Company (MEC) of Saudi Arabia and KCC Corporation of Korea (KCC). The plant will be located in Jubail Industrial City and delivery of equipment is expected to be completed by the end of 2012.
  • Qatar: Launched in 2010, Qatar Solar Technologies (QST) is a joint venture company formed between Qatar Solar, SolarWorld AG, and Qatar Development Bank. In April 2011, OST announced plans to build a $1-billion polysilicon plant in Ras Laffan Industrial City in the north east of Qatar that aims to leverage the country’s natural resources and advanced research facilities to manufacture and develop solar technologies locally. The plant will manufacture 8,000 metric tons per year of high-grade polysilicon and is scheduled to begin operations in the second half of 2013.


For Desertec, there is a lot of work that remains as the “Arab Spring” uprisings sweeping the region have slowed negotiations that had begun with former regimes such as Tunisia and Syria, according to Medgrid’s chief executive, Andre Merlin. The Desertec plan is also politically sensitive in a region made up of former European colonies, who initially felt Europe was once again launching a neo-colonialist enterprise to pillage the region’s resources.

While the Middle East members of OPEC - which supply nearly 40 percent of the world’s crude - opposed the emission-reduction targets discussed at COP 17 meetings in Durban, those countries are still pursuing direct investment in solar energy to diversify their economies.

  • Given Solarcentury's proven track record of creating high-profile, modern solar across Europe, this should be a partnership to watch.
  • A GCC solar expert at the 2nd GCC-France Economic Forum predicted that solar power will be an important source of energy for GCC states in the next decade and that there will be a solid need for skilled professionals to meet the regions' plans for the solar energy industry.
  • Even though Saudi Arabia - OPEC’s largest oil producer - opposed the COP 17 meetings in Durban, that the Kingdom is pursuing not only polysilicon production, but has also committed $10 million to get a postage stamp-sized solar technology get off the ground that uses quantum dots that harvest energy from both regular sunlight and infrared light.
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