What does the future hold for wind power in the Middle East?

Mohammed Atif,
Area Manager Middle East & Africa,
DNV GL Energy

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is blessed with a variety of natural energy resources, such as oil, gas and solar. One resource that is often overlooked, however,
is wind.

Wind power could play a key role in helping the region meet the rapidly growing demand for electricity, while addressing environmental concerns and meeting global emissions goals. A recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the League of Arab States found that – although concentrated in certain geographical pockets – the MENA region’s wind resources show great promise. In particular, the Atlantic and Red Sea coasts show potential for large-scale wind farms, with wind speeds frequently exceeding 7 m/s – generally considered the threshold for wind power to be economically viable.

Egypt’s Gulf of Suez is perhaps the most promising area in the region, with annual average wind speeds of 7 m/s to 10 m/s. Other areas that have demonstrated significant potential are the Sahara region of Southern Morocco, and Salalah region of Oman.

The wind turbine market is constantly evolving and developing, and therefore becoming more cost effective. The general trend is moving towards larger turbines with higher-rated capacities. Larger rotor diameters enable greater wind capture and can produce electricity at a lower cost, improving profitability in lower-wind speed areas and opening up a new frontier for wind development.

Similarly, taller towers can exploit the greater wind speeds that are typically found at higher altitudes. The main design drivers in the selection of machines to be used at a site include:

  • Site access and civil engineering issues;
  • Cost and proximity of grid connection;
  • Local exposure of the wind farm site;
  • Relative cost of wind turbines per MW installed;
  • Track record of wind turbines under consideration;
  • Planning acceptability

There are a number of turbines in the 2.5 MW to 3.5 MW range (with rotor diameters of around 90 m to 130 m) that are suitable for the MENA region. A number of manufacturers are currently actively marketing products in this size range here in the Middle East. Advances in turbine and blade technology are allowing larger capacity factors to be produced at lower wind speeds. Such technologies are being investigated in Jordan, Oman, Egypt and Morocco. As a result of these developments, wind power is becoming increasingly cost-competitive with the current fossil fuel generation. Depending on the right location, the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) of wind power with a capacity factor of 30% can be as low as $80/MWh ($0.08/kWh).

By its nature, wind is an intermittent resource. When power generation from such intermittent resources approaches 10%, system integration becomes an important issue. A key challenge of wind power is to integrate this into the grid while maintaining a stable, reliable and secure power supply. To achieve this, grid operators need to adopt new tools and guidelines for the optimal scheduling of power stations. To facilitate future market operations, they need to define the most suitable system for forecasting wind power and design real-time systems for monitoring and controlling integrated generation technologies with supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) or Energy Management Systems (EMS).

With all this in mind, it becomes predictable that wind power will continue to expand its footprint in the MENA region. Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Oman and the KSA have all announced wind generation targets that amount to thousands of MW installed capacity over the coming years. Other countries are likely to follow soon.

As with solar, the installed unit cost of wind power has progressively decreased, making wind power more competitive – while continuing to be environmentally and socially more sustainable than conventional power generation. Wind energy is yet another blessing of natural resources, which holds the potential to transform the Middle East energy landscape.

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