GCC's interest in diversifying the energy mix comes at an opportune time

Published September 4th, 2016 - 09:00 GMT
GCC countries set no specific emission reduction targets at COP21 but promised to develop their renewable energy sectors. (Shutterstock)
GCC countries set no specific emission reduction targets at COP21 but promised to develop their renewable energy sectors. (Shutterstock)

The Middle East and North Africa accounts for 7 per cent of annual CO2 emissions worldwide, according to the World Bank.

But in per capita terms, the Gulf is in a different league entirely.

As the organisation notes in a November report, “one Kuwaiti, Emirati or Omani emits as much as 10 Egyptians, Tunisians or Moroccans”.

The contrast is particularly stark between the highest per capita consumers, Qataris, and the lowest, Djiboutians and Palestinians. One of the former produces as many emissions as 73 of the latter. And the region will suffer disproportionately should global temperatures increase.

In its 2014 publication Turn Down the Heat, the World Bank forecasts even warmer summers and an increase in the number of days with exceptionally high temperatures and thermal discomfort across the MENA region.

This could increase from four days to about two months in Amman, eight days to three months in Baghdad and three days to more than four months in Riyadh.

In light of these warnings, plunging oil prices and a growing need to diversify their economies, MENA nations approached last year’s United Nations Conference of Parties 21 meeting in Paris.

Commitments varied. Lebanon said it would offer an unconditional reduction in emissions of 15 per cent, increasing to 30 per cent with international backing. And Oman pledged an unconditional emissions cut of 2 per cent by 2030.

Meanwhile, the other Gulf Cooperation Council countries set no specific emission reduction targets but promised to develop their renewable energy sectors.

Kuwait and Bahrain have said they will produce 5 per cent of capacity from renewable energy by 2020, the United Arab Emirates said it would produce 24 per cent by 2021 and Qatar said it would produce 20 per cent by 2030, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, plans to reap the benefits of avoiding the equivalent of up to 130 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030 – aiming to achieve this through contributions to economic diversity.

Regional plans may be smaller in their ambition than those of specific countries like Morocco, which intends to generate more than half (52 per cent) of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. But they come at an opportune time.

In a report released this year, IRENA suggests that the economic and social rationale for energy transition has never been stronger.

The organisation notes that regional energy consumption has grown faster than the national rate in China, India and Brazil in recent years and is expected to double in Saudi Arabia by 2032. Externally too, global oil and gas demand is forecast to soften in the coming decades following the agreement in Paris, placing greater emphasis on plans to diversify regional economies away from hydrocarbons.

This is not to mention the economic benefits of a more diversified regional energy mix.

“The GCC region can cut its annual water use by 16 per cent, save 400 million barrels of oil, create close to 210,000 jobs and reduce its per capita carbon footprint by 8 per cent in 2030 – all by achieving the renewable energy targets that national and sub-national governments have already put in place,” notes IRENA.

However, it may not all be plane sailing ahead. Reports in January suggested Saudi Arabia would delay its clean energy programme, including $109bn in solar power projects, by eight years due to a desire to produce up to 80 per cent of solar components locally.

But elsewhere in the region at least, solar power is still shining strong.

Dubai, for example, announced the launch of the world’s largest concentrated solar power project in June, which will generate 1,000MW of power when completed in late 2020 or early 2021.

The overall project, located within the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, will consist of five 200MW plants developed under a build and operate model for a 25-year duration.

Dubai Water and Electricity Authority will retain 60 per cent and has launched a tender for international consultants to submit a proposal for advisory services for the first plant. This will be awarded within three months, with the tender for the main developer to follow three months after.

“We will decide the winner based on the lowest bid,” DEWA chief executive Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer told reporters.

While current rates for CSP stand at around 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, Al Tayer said he was aiming to receive bids of around 8 cents.

This would not be the first time the emirate achieved a record-low tariff. Last year, the 200MW second phase of the park was awarded to Saudi Arabia-based ACWA Power and Spanish engineering firm TSK at a rate of 5.98 cents/kWh over 25 years.

The project showed that solar power can compete with hydrocarbons on pricing, according to the company tasked with installing the panels.

“Over the last two years we’ve seen some interesting technology improvements enabling some incredible tariffs that nobody even thought could exist for solar a few years ago,” says First Solar’s vice president and region executive for the Middle East Ahmed Nada.

“That has definitely made an impact on how the market will move forward.”

Nada argues that this cost competitiveness is just the beginning as solar power asserts itself in the region. Memorandums of understanding in Jordan and Saudi Arabia for prices as low as 5 cents/kWh support this prediction.

According to a report released by the Middle East Solar Industry Association, renewable development in 2016 will be characterised by increasingly lower costs of solar electricity.

“The region’s solar energy market will be spurred on, rather than slowed down, by low oil and gas prices,” MESIA says.

New government clean energy targets related to the COP 21 meeting are also reason enough for renewables players to be optimistic.

“Long term, they have a vision and part of that vision is diversification,” says advisory company DNV GL’s area manager energy advisory Mohammed Atif.

First Solar is looking at regional projects including the 800MW third phase of the MBR Solar Park and Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority’s 350MW Sweihan development. It is also building a 52.5 MW photovoltaic project in Shams Ma’an, Jordan and plans to pursue other projects in the country this year and next year, according to Nada.

Changes in legislation allowing private companies and government projects to put power back on the grid are encouraging development in regional countries including Jordan.

Recent projects in the Hashemite Kingdom include a $128m contract for the 103MW Al Quweira solar plant awarded to photovoltaic system integrator Enviromena and TSK in December.

“You’re seeing the positive benefits of being able to distribute solar from the private sector in a public fashion in places like Jordan,” says Enviromena’s chief executive Sami Khoreibi.

“Over the last two years, we’ve seen a number of countries go from single projects to prove the technology to real programmes that are being driven by the government and the private sector to address power needs in a clean and cost effective fashion.”

By Robert Anderson



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