Moderate solar growth envisioned for UAE

Over 100 people attended Solarpraxis’ second Middle Eastern solar event today in Dubai, which discussed, among others, the contribution solar can make to replacing fossil fuels in the region, market conditions, political support and project development.

The conference kicked off with the presentation of the results of the Emirates Solar Industry Association’s (ESIA) and PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) 2012 United Arab Emirates Solar Survey by Hannes Reinisch, senior manager energy, utilities & mining from PwC, UAE.

The more than 1,200 respondents – comprised of solar experts, industrial practitioners and members of the local industry – believe that solar development in the region will experience moderate not major growth in the next five years. Overall, they predict that the industry will take around 10 years to mature, although growth very much depends on the level of support offered by government. Over 89% of respondents voted for the introduction of a FIT.

Gus Schellekens, director, Sustainability and Climate Change at PwC further stated that a sound regulatory framework, efficient regulatory bodies and long-term guarantees are the three keys to help both investors and project developers in the UAE.

"The Solar Survey has pointed out a very important fact: the establishment of a healthy solar market stands and falls on a sound regulatory framework and this is not yet in place in the UAE. The aim of such a legal framework must be to enable and encourage solar investments. It must do so carefully, however, in order to encourage sustainable, not uncontrolled, growth in solar capacity," added Michael Krämer, senior associate, Taylor Wessing, legal counsel to ESIA.

In terms of solar technology, the respondents showed a preference for photovoltaics over CSP. However, they said the most suitable technologies include solar water heating and cooling, PV and CSP, with heating and cooling technologies receiving the highest score.

Looking specifically at photovoltaics, more than 35% of the respondents predict that thin film and crystalline technologies will be used in future projects. Meanwhile 62% think that solar water heating and cooling will be a primary area for growth.

It is believed that the government will drive solar project development in the UAE, followed by the industrial, commercial and residential sectors, respectively. In terms of installation type, integration in new constructions and rooftop installations, particularly small, are seen as primary growth areas. However, residential solar water heating, off-grid applications in telecoms and street lighting, among others, are also deemed promising areas for development.

Low retail electricity prices were identified as a "major challenge" to obtaining solar project financing, as was the perception by banks that solar is a risky investment. "A coordinated solar policy and regulatory framework, especially in the form of a government guarantee in project financing, combined with multiples years of solar plant operating data in the region, will ensure the economics presented to a bank/financier in a project proposal will be comparable with conventional investments," stated the survey’s authors.

Alper Celebi, sales manager for the Middle East region for Siemens also spoke at the conference. He focused on internal rates of return (IRR) in his presentation on how optimized technical solutions influence PV business model.

He further mentioned that although Siemens’ has taken the decision to exit the solar industry, it would not have remained a gold sponsor of the conference if it did not have further operations in the solar sector in Dubai in mind.

Again addressing IRR, Solarpraxis’ Matthias Schwärzle explained that IRRs of up to 20% in two to three years are possible in the UAE.

Conference speakers at the Solar Industry Summit – Middle East 2012 also included, Nikolai Dobrott, Apricum GmbH; Ahmed Lootah, Project Manager, Policy and Strategy, Ministry of Cabinet Affairs – at Prime Minister’s Office of the United Arab Emirates; Keily Miller and James Coan, James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, USA; and Hatem Hamam, Conergy, Singapore.