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Alan Mammoser

Alan Mammoser

Alan Mammoser writes about energy, environment, cities, infrastructure and planning. He writes the weblog, www.warmearth.us

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The Top 5 Hotspots For Renewables In The Middle East

solar shams

A great positive story coming from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), countering much of the negative news these days, is one of energy. Here, in one of the driest and sunniest regions on earth, countries are boldly turning to the sun and wind to power their futures.

Global goals

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which is based in Abu Dhabi, wants to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. In a report last year, IRENA said that a more rapid deployment of renewables, combined with greater energy efficiency, could achieve 90% of energy sector emission reductions required by the agreement. What this would look like in 2050, is that renewables would comprise 2/3rds of the world’s energy consumption and 4/5ths of its power generation in that year.

Regional efforts

Countries across the MENA region are heeding this message by taking initial but firm steps toward a large-scale integration of renewables into their energy mix. Their motives are not just altruistic, since demand for electricity is expected to grow by 7 percent annually in the region. They must find cheap energy sources to support economic development for growing populations. Solar energy has become the cheapest form of new power generation for them.

A short list of leading projects, recently completed or underway in five countries across the region, gives a good sense of the scale of what’s going on.


Egypt is making strides toward achieving an ambitious national goal for renewables to make up 42% of the country’s electricity mix by 2035, with rapid solar and wind deployment. Its solar PV program, which includes the enormous new Benban complex near Aswan launching later this year, should yield 3-4 GW of solar power coming online during the next 2-3 years.

The impressive solar program is complemented by a commitment to wind. Capacity has been added at the Zaafarana wind farm, east of Cairo on the Gulf of Suez, for several years. It is now complemented by the newly inaugurated Gabal El Zeit wind farm, near Gabal El Zeit Port by the confluence of the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea. There, a hundred new wind turbines are adding 200 MW of capacity. The government recently announced that the two wind farms together are producing 1 GW of power.   Related: U.S. Energy Consumption Hits All-Time Record

Wind energy is being developed through both private investment and international aid. The Netherlands-based Lekela Power, with wind projects in several African countries, is now adding 250 MW of wind power at Gabal El Zeit. The German government's development bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB) have provided financing.


Morocco plans to meet 42% of its energy needs with renewable sources by 2020. The target rises to 52% by 2030. It’s moving toward this with an impressive pipeline of solar and wind projects. The Moroccan Solar Energy Programme (aka NOOR or ‘light’), is developing five solar complexes with a combined capacity of approximately 2GW by 2020.

The most remarkable of these are two hybrid concentrated solar power (CSP) and photovoltaic (PV) plants, among the largest in the world; both are in central Morocco straddling the Atlas Mountain range. The hybrid CSP-PV approach seeks advantages from combining low-cost PV with CSP storage capability.

The 580 MW NOOR Ouarzazate solar project will become fully operational this year. This will be followed by the 800 MW NOOR Midelt project. They are being financed through public-private partnerships and World Bank loans. The Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (MASEN) is overseeing independent power producer (IPP) agreements.

Morocco is also serious about wind energy. The Tarfaya wind farm has been built in phases at Tarfaya on the Atlantic coast across from the Canary Islands. It now has aome 130 turbines and an installed capacity of 300 MW. It is one of several new or planned wind farms in the Western Sahara area. Major investors include Engie, Siemens, Morocco’s Nareva Holding and the Italian company Enel.


Oman is seeking to have 10% clean energy in its energy mix by 2025 (approximately 2.6 GW). Several solar PV projects are in the works to achieve this.  

A huge concentrated solar thermal power plant, the 1 GW Miraah (‘mirror’) project for solar steam using CSP trough technology, was inaugurated last year. Meant to reduce the country’s dependence on natural gas for oil production, its thermal energy produces steam for thermal “enhanced oil recovery” at the Amal oilfield. Petroleum Development Oman, a joint venture between the government, Shell, Total and Partex, contracted with GlassPoint Solar to construct the solar thermal plant using its “enclosed trough technology.”

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia issued a plan in 2013 for 54 GW of renewables by 2030. That was eclipsed by a venture with Softbank early last year, which raised the national solar target to a remarkable 200 GW by 2030. This fell through and the Saudi Ministry of Energy then returned almost to the starting point, intending 59 GW by 2030. So after fits and starts, the country is moving forward with the first projects of its National Renewable Energy Program (NREP) to achieve a more diverse energy mix.

Its first big solar project, a 300 MW solar PV plant at Sakaka in the northwest of the country, will soon get underway. The renewable energy company ACWA Power, based in Saudi Arabia, was selected to develop it after submitting a record low bid of 2.36 cents per kWh. Related: The Case For $100 Oil

The Saudis are intent on developing a domestic solar power components industry and require local sourcing for new solar plants. They have targeted a 10-year production of components sufficient to produce 140 GW of power, in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, which combined with their renewable energy goal would allow them to say they had indeed reached the 200 GW target.


The Saudi push is also intent on developing wind power. The development of the Dumat Al Jandal wind farm was recently awarded to a consortium consisting of the French company EDF Renewables and Masdar (Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company). With an installed capacity of 400 MW, it will be Saudi Arabia’s first wind farm and among the largest in the Middle East.

United Arab Emirates

The UAE has set a national goal to gain 44% of its energy from renewable sources, mainly solar, by 2050. For its part, Dubai intends that 75% of its total power output will come from clean energy by 2050.

Much of Dubai’s ambition lay in the enormous MBR Solar Park in the desert some 30 miles south of the city. The solar park’s Phase 3, a solar PV array generating 800 MW, will be complete by next year. It was this phase, being built by a consortium of Masdar and EDF Energies Nouvelles, that broke records in 2016 for the lowest Levelised Cost of Electricity as a result of auctioning.

Phase 4, a 950 MW solar CSP/PV complex, will consist of 700 MW CSP with up to 15 hours storage, and a further 250 MW of solar PV capacity. Called Noor Energy 1, it will be built by a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power and the Chinese government’s Silk Road Fund.

In neighboring Abu Dhabi attention is focused on the 1.2 GW Sweihan solar PV plant. It is the world’s largest single location solar PV plant, currently under construction and expected to come online in 2019. Meanwhile, the Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority (ADWEA) is planning for a 1.5 GW Sweihan II plant. According to ADWEA, Abu Dhabi is looking to develop three or four new solar PV plants in order to reach a target 5.7 GW by 2026.

By Alan Mammoser for Oilprice.com

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