Jordan turns to solar to relieve stress of refugee crisis

Relatively safe, stable and prosperous, Jordan’s proximity to the regions of Syria embroiled in the most severe fighting have meant that the Kingdom has bore the brunt of the genuine refugee crisis currently re-shaping many parts of the Middle East.

While Europe battles an altogether different influx comprised partly of genuine refugees and partly of economic migrants looking to take advantage of an unprecedented movement of people, Jordan is currently home to more than 1.4 million Syrian refugees – one in seven of its population.

According to the United Nations, refugees stay an average of 17 years in a host country, and so Jordan is seeking ways in which to alleviate the current strains that such a huge volume of people is exerting on its infrastructure.

According to Jordan’s minister of planning, international cooperation and tourism, Imad Fakhoury, demand for water has risen 20% nationwide since the influx began – rising to 40% in the northern areas where the majority of the refugee camps are located.

Fakhoury also told a panel discussion at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London last week that Jordan’s economic growth has slowed three-fold since the crisis began – leading the country to look to the EU, and to solar, to help alleviate the current strains.

Jordan’s manager of the energy, environment and climate change program, Omar Abu Eid, revealed that the country is close to agreeing a $100 million package with the EU to fund infrastructure upgrades, much of which will be invested in solar energy projects.

Eid said that around 300 solar-powered water pumps will be installed at a cost of $50 million, while a further 1,000 rooftop solar panels, 20,000 sun-powered water heaters and a 5 MW PV farm will be built in Azraq in the center of the country to help ease the current stress on power supply.

Jordan spends $5.4 billion a year on energy to power its water pumps, and thus foreign assistance – and a greater adoption on affordable and less-water intensive solar energy – is seen as key to ensuring Jordan can keep the lights on and continue to absorb the millions displaced as one of the worst civil wars in recent memory continues to rumble on.

"We need to find a way to be a host community without disrupting it," said Fakhoury. "We need a paradigm shift, development rather than emergency response."

Jordan has emerged as a beacon of hope for solar in the MENA region, and is currently on course to reach 600 MW of cumulative PV capacity by 2020. Last month, UAE’s Masdar announced a 200 MW solar PV plant in the country, while ABB confirmed it was supplying 50 MW of inverters to two large-scale solar projects.

Net metering is driving growth in the residential rooftop sector, which reached 100 MW of cumulative capacity by the end of 2015.