The Solar industry in the Arab Region: today and tomorrow.

Dr. Raed Bkayrat
Research Director, Board member
Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA)
+971 55 397 4949

At the turn of this century, the total installed capacity for solar photovoltaic (PV) modules was 1.5 giga watts (GW); less than 15 years later, according to analyst estimates, the global industry wide installed capacity at the end of 2014, was about 150GW. This is equivalent to building ten nuclear power plants a year, for 15 years.

While some may argue that it got off to a slow start, the Middle East region is increasingly embracing solar energy. Despite the fact that the region is home to some of the world’s largest hydrocarbons reserves that have built up over millennia, countries here are now beginning to tap into the power of sunlight, created just under nine minutes before it is transformed into electricity by photovoltaic panels.

For an oil-rich region, this is a remarkable shift, and the Middle East is setting new benchmarks in the cost of electricity generated from solar energy that is capturing global attention.

A number of recent solar projects in the Middle East have been breaking records: In 2012, developed by Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power, the first largest solar secure the world’s lowest levelized cost of solar energy for a large scale solar PV plant with its 100MW second phase of its ambitious solar park. Faced with a tariff of 5.84 USD cents per kilowatt hour (kWH), DEWA decided to double the capacity of the project to 200MW, placing it in the same ranks as one of the world’s largest solar power plants, providing the cheapest cost for electrical energy generation from solar energy ever achieved without government support schemes.

Building on an already impressive track record, DEWA has announced this year the next solar phase, to be tendered later this year, will clock at an astonishing 800MW, making it one of the largest solar power projects to ever be tendered in a single phase.

In neighboring Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA) has announced a large 320MW solar PV project to be tendered soon on a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) basis ushering in the era of large scale solar power plants in an emirate that is already home to Masdar’s 10MW solar PV plant and the 100MW Shams 1 concentrated solar thermal power plant.

Additionally, in Jordan, the results of second round of the Kingdom’s renewable energy independent power production program saw three developers bidding under 6.9 US cents per kWH. Egypt also has been very bullish about its energy needs and placing its focus on clean renewable energy, announced a 2 gigawatt (GW) Feed-In-Tariff (FiT) program for Solar PV in Binban, while also signing several MOUs for solar PV power plant developments across Egypt with multiple international developers and financiers.

to be the next area to be strongly populated in the solar industry value chain as a natural evolution of the project portfolio being developed and executed currently.

The region is also likely to see more groundbreaking projects such as hybrid power plants where solar PV or CSP are co-located and integrated with conventional power plants. It is also likely to see the integration

thermal project in Ouarzazate Morocco - Noor 1 - was, at the time of its contract being awarded, the largest concentrated solar thermal project in the world at 160 megawatts (MW).

In the United Arab Emirates, the Dubai Water and Electricity Authority (DEWA) commissioned the largest ground- mounted solar PV plant in the Middle East in 2013. At 13MW, this facility may seem small in comparison to some of the large scale solar PV plants being built in Europe and North America. Yet, it was merely a stepping stone onto bigger ambitions. In 2015, DEWA broke records when it managed to

At the same time, other oil and gas rich countries such as Kuwait and Qatar, are taking notice of current market pricing of solar energy and for good reason: solar is, today, comparable to the in-country average cost of electricity generated from their current fossil fuel-heavy mix of resources. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also reportedly deliberating these recent ground breaking prices as it works on revamping its plans in solar and renewables that were initially announced in 2010.

These sizable initiatives and projects are creating local expertise across the solar industry value chain from technology development and manufacturing to operations and maintenance. The Middle East is also home to advanced research institutions that are already working on ground breaking solar technologies, such as the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and Masdar Institute.

While strong knowhow is being developed in solar project development and engineering, procurement and construction, operation and maintenance seems

of solar technologies for sustainable water treatment and desalination, such as utilizing solar PV plants to run seawater reverse osmosis filtration systems.

It is very fair to say that given this momentum, the Middle East will be solar powerhouses in the near future with a strong industrial, commercial and engineering base that will further energize low cost solar power generation and new innovations to come.

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