Middle Eastern solar market is simmering

Eyes are on Saudi Arabia, where the solar potential is greatest and the project pipeline is simmering.

During the sessions at Solarpraxis’ first Middle Eastern event, which attracted over 120 attendees, it was highlighted that the Kingdom’s largest industrial entities, including petrochemical company Saudi Aramco, plastics producer Sabic and Saudi Telecom Company (STC) are initiating solar projects.

In addition, national research agency, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) is developing a desalination plant that will be powered by solar thermal energy. Across the region, the need for clean water, both for drinking and for agriculture, will become more acute and several states, including Qatar and Kuwait, are looking into the potential of solar powered desalination.

A national renewable energy law, which should provide the framework to facilitate development of solar energy in Saudi Arabia is also in the offing.

However, the absence of Masdar Power at the summit didn’t go unnoticed. Its Shams One 100 megawatt (MW) concentrated solar project (CSP) project and Noor One 100 MW photovoltaic project, in development in Abu Dhabi, were often referred to.

Compelling

For a country such as Saudi Arabia, with an economy built upon the production and export of fossil fuels and derivative products, solar energy generation is compelling, where it can be used to replace burning fuel to generate the energy required for its industrial activities. "The case for solar is strongest where it preserves the integrity of this industry, by replacing conventional energy supply with a renewable source and reduces carbon emissions," according to one observer.

Neighbouring Jordan, one of the smallest states in the Middle East, imports 96 percent of its energy supply. The country is looking to renewables to make its energy supply more secure. Last year, Jordan’s gas supply, from Egypt, was interrupted six times over a period of 180 days, the equivalent of a 1.5 MW photovoltaic plant for each day of interrupted supply.

By 2020, Jordan wants to reduce its energy imports to 61 percent. Domestic firm Kawar Energy is conducting a feasibility study for a 100 MW photovoltaic or concentrated photovoltaic (CVP) plant, which has the potential to scale up to 500 MW. The government is gathering the information it needs to formulate a policy on renewable energy and Kawar will present a final proposal for the photovoltaic project in the first part of 2012.