Use of Renewable Energy in the Gulf Countries

Ministry of Energy - Electricity
Electricity and Water Desalination

Research Project
Use of Renewable Energy in the
Gulf Countries


The human keeps searching for new sources of energy to meet his growing needs in the developed applications of life in which he lives. However, some sources of energy are known of being exhausted, high cost of their utilization and negative impact of their use on the environment. The human has become aware in the modern era of the possibility of benefiting from the sunlight heat, which is characterized as renewable and sustainable energy, the same as the energy that can be obtained from the wind, water flow or other natural phenomena that can produce energy. The world has recognized clearly the great danger caused by using the other and conventional sources of energy (especially oil and natural gas) in pollution and destruction of environment, making the renewable energy the best option at all. Therefore, the renewable sources of energy have become in this current era a national income for some countries, so that in the Arab Gulf Countries, which are considered as of the most oil-rich countries in the world, the solar energy is mainly and effectively used.

Historical Overview:

Since renewable energy is considered as of the modern scientific fields and disciplines, as attention to renewable energy as a source of energy dates back to the early thirties where thinking at that time was focused on finding materials and devices capable of converting solar energy into electrical energy, and a substance has been discovered called selenium of which electrical resistance is affected once exposed to light. Such discovery occurred by chance, as the original search was to find a substance with high electrical resistance for the purpose of extending communication cables at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, the use of the wind energy as a basis in production of energy for mills is long experienced in Europe.

The region works on establishing or planning a lot of wind and solar energy production projects, including projects for creating cities that depend on the renewable energy sources in the United Arab Emirates and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For example, "Masdar" initiative in Abu Dhabi plans to build the largest plant for production of concentrated solar energy in the world with a capacity up to 1000 MW, while Jordan plans to produce 300 MW of its need of electricity in the year 2020 from the solar energy. Egypt seeks to open the first plant for solar energy production south of Cairo at the end of the year, coupled with energy production using gas.

While the Arab Mediterranean countries and Arab Gulf Countries develop policies that support efficiency of energy, however success or failure of the attempts made by the region's countries for diversifying the energy sources, predominating the low-carbon solutions, depend on the ability of such countries to remove a lot of strategic challenges.

Why the renewable energy sources should be developed in a region that has a large reserve of fossil fuel ?

The renewable energy industry in most countries of the Middle East and North Africa suffers from low or non funding. However, there are at least seven reasons that should motivate the region to take a leading role in the development of this sector:
  • The region enjoys suitable geographic and climatic features, as the Middle East and North Africa region has the largest potentials in the world for solar energy production.
  • The renewable energy will contribute to reducing the greenhouse gases and facing the climate change. Many countries of the region are considered as among the countries which emit the highest amount of greenhouse gases in the world per capita.
  • The renewable energy sources can help in solving the other environmental problems of the region. The region faces a rapid rise of pollution levels accompanied by high costs and deterioration of the quality of life. It currently experiences the second highest level of air pollution in the world.
  • The renewable energy sources can reduce the quantities of oil and gas used in the production of electricity locally, and thus it is possible to make use of these quantities in more profitable fields.
  • The renewable energy industry can contribute to economic diversification and job creation. The oil and gas sector produces 47 percent of the total domestic product in the Arab Gulf Countries, however it does not have more than one percent of the jobs.

Options of Renewable Energy Use

The wind energy and solar energy are considered the most attractive options in the Gulf region.

Wind Energy

In good locations, the energy generated from the wind on the land competes generation of energy from the fossil fuel in terms of the cost. However, the main problem in the wind is that it is intermittent as it does not storm at all times when there is a need to generate electricity. This issue can be managed in part by distribution of wind turbines on a wide geographic area. In this regard, Al Hussaini says: "The planners can get more energy from the wind through linking the wind turbines to the hydroelectric plants that can be used to compensate such intermittency and absorb the excess wind power".

Solar Energy

There are two essential technologies for production of solar energy. The first is called the concentrated solar energy and it uses mirrors and lenses to concentrate the solar energy as it is used on a commercial scale to rotate turbines and produce electricity. As for the solar energy generated through the photovoltaic panels, it converts the sunlight directly to electricity by using the semiconductors, and this technology is often used in smaller applications, such as the home use. The two types of solar energy technologies can be used on a large scale in the region. For example, Masdar initiative in Abu Dhabi has recently started the construction of the first photovoltaic generation plant on a commercial scale in the region, and small plants are spread in several countries, especially in remote areas."

Generation of Renewable Energy in the Middle East

Participation of the private sector in the development of the renewable energy sector in the Middle East and North Africa is essential due to its experience in reducing cost and improving efficiency." However, the region's governments should also play a leading role to activate the sector and encourage investments therein by the following:
  • Development of a strategy for renewable energy Development of the renewable energy strategy requires to take several factors into consideration. The governments should evaluate their renewable sources and technical capabilities. They also should take into consideration the economic benefits resulting from creating an industrial sector capable of providing the renewable energy projects with the necessary parts and equipments instead of importing them. In addition, the governments should start use of the technology models and small pilot projects so as not to incur high costs as a result of the inevitable errors occurring in the new projects, and should grow rapidly through transition to a larger scale as soon as the models prove efficiency and effectiveness, and then starting construction of infrastructure and the human capital.
  • Establishment of appropriate renewable energy corporate frameworks In most countries of the Middle East and North Africa, there is no clear responsible authority on the governmental level concerned with the affairs of renewable energy. Al Sayyed says: "The governments should assign and empower a body to lead policy development in this field and follow up their implementation".
  • Development of appropriate policy and regulatory framework to promote the development of renewable energy and its use The governments can develop the regulatory action plans to allow the renewable energy projects to enter into such plans, as well as creating incentives that launch renewable energy investments and to promote decentralized projects for renewable energy generation. The regulators should also take into consideration to give the individuals some independence in certain activities such as installation of solar panels on the roofs of houses.
  • Facing the technical challenges Since generation of energy from the wind and solar sources is intermittent, these two sources should be associated with the traditional generation of energy. Fayyad comments on the topic, saying: "This issue represents a technical challenge, however it was passed successfully in other parts of the world."
  • Building the capabilities of research and development and strengthening the local skills The renewable energy industry needs qualified workforce of technicians, designers and engineers. In addition, the renewable energy sector depends substantially on research and development to make progress in the areas of materials, technology and implementation. The pioneers in the renewable energy sector are often near the global research institutes.

Does the western world oppose the development of renewable energy alternatives in the Arab Peninsula and Gulf ?

The Arab Peninsula and Gulf region was and still be one of the most important regions and strategic centers in the world, as it is associated with the major oil discoveries, making it the focus of attention and competition of the major countries for the purpose of investment of oil and seeking to secure its sources and flow to the global markets. However, in the light of the concerns of losing this abundant grace, it is required to talk about other alternatives, on the top of which is the solar energy. The geopolitical importance of the Arab Gulf region lies in being as a warehouse of the world's energy, increasing its importance, as it has the largest reserve of oil and gas, causing the future of energy supplies subject to ensuring its security and stability, and as the recent period has witnessed a marked increase in the countries that wagered on using the renewable energy as an important factor in the global economy and on the environment together with using the solar heaters to heat water for different purposes and practical applications.

Importance of the role of oil producing countries in the development of renewable energy

The oil-producing countries assume today a leading central position in the global energy sector that witnesses increasing growth and demand. These oil-producing countries can maintain and promote the leading role they play within this vital sector by diversifying the energy sources to increasingly include the renewable energy.

The investment in renewable energy sources is considered as a logical step for the countries of which economies depend substantially on the production and export of oil and gas, as this investment shall contribute to shifting from oil and gas-producing and exporting countries to an important player in the field of energy in general.

Dependence on the renewable energy sources shall also contribute to diversifying our economy and development of human capital required to build sustainable knowledgebased economy.

Despite the continued domination of fossil fuel on the energy market during the next few decades, it is very necessary to put in our mind the renewable energy sector. Therefore, the diversification of energy sources to include the renewable energy shall allow us to maintain the hydrocarbon sources and use them for a longer period of time and thereby making use of the expected increase in the fossil fuel prices.

By establishing the renewable energy sector and our interest in the development of clear technologies, we shall contribute effectively to the diversification of our economy and we shall become less dependant on the imported technologies, through working on developing these technologies locally and creating large exporting opportunities that would contribute to the development of sustainable knowledge-based economy.

To ensure the success of the development of renewable energy industries in the oil and gas- producing countries, it is necessary to work with similar plans and mechanisms to encourage the use of renewable energy sources,

the matter which would help these countries to compete in the renewable energy market and reduce costs and develop the clean technologies.

Thanks to the deep foresight of the wise leadership, the United Arab Emirates plays today a leading role in the renewable energy field and the climate change issues, as the efforts exerted in this regard have culminated in the success of the efforts of the United Arab Emirates to host the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in Abu Dhabi.

Moreover, the United Arab Emirates established in 2010 a department specialized in the energy and climate change affairs within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure that (IRENA) receives support allocated by the United Arab Emirates and to follow up its works, as well as organizing and unifying the local efforts in the climate change affairs and protecting the country's interests in the field of international negotiations on the climate change.

The objective that is on the top priorities of the Department is represented in ensuring invitation of the United Arab Emirates to all closed-door talks relating to energy and climate change issues, and ensuring that the international bodies concerned are aware of our national strategy in order to maintain our leading role in the energy field. Abu Dhabi has also become today a global platform for global cooperation and debate about the fields of renewable energy and climate change, through hosting many international important events and conferences, such as the World Future Energy Summit held annually in Abu Dhabi. The absolute commitment by the wise leaders of the United Arab Emirates to the renewable energy field is considered as the best evidence for its deep economic foresight and its continuous commitment to lead the international efforts aiming at preservation of the environment.

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