Gulf States Turn to Solar Energy

As oil costs increase, Gulf states have embarked on alternative energy projects aimed at harnessing the countries’ vast solar potential.

al-monitor Saudi residents watch a solar eclipse in Jeddah, Jan. 15, 2010.  Photo by REUTERS/Zaki Ghawas.

Topics covered

renewable energy, saudi, oil, gcc

Sep 4, 2013

Among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are on the top of the list of the biggest markets implementing solar energy projects. Both countries are the primary investors in ongoing projects, as the six GCC countries began the construction of solar power plants, relying on investments exceeding $155 billion. The plants are to be completed by 2017.

Organizers of Gulf Sol 2013 affirmed that the plants will generate more than 84 GW of power, noting that, “the conference, which will be attended by Gulf officials and workers in the energy sector, will address some of the main challenges related to the deployment of energy projects in desert terrain.”

At a press conference in Dubai on Monday [Sept. 2] Derek Burston, director of the UK-based Bowmedia, said, “The growth of the GCC photovoltaic market has been phenomenal.” He added, “GCC governments have demonstrated their keenness to shift from traditional energy sources to these low-cost and abundant alternatives.”

Burston then added, “Direct radiation in many Middle Eastern countries exceeds 6 kW per square meter per hour, making for excellent solar potential. Additionally, recent decreases in the costs of solar technologies were coupled with rising electricity demand in these growing nations.”

The Emirates Solar Industry Association (ESIA) noted, “Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Morocco and Jordan are the key countries that will implement solar power projects.”

"The economics of switching to solar energy in the Middle East are a lot better than those in South Africa, India, Brazil, China and the United States. With oil prices increasing and solar technology costs plummeting, it is time for governments in the Middle East to turn talk into action," said Marc Norman, director of ESIA.

Gulf Sol 2013 was held at a time when Abu Dhabi has set a goal of generating 7% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Additionally, the state-owned renewable energy company, Masdar, has announced that it will invest up to 6 billion dirhams ($1.3 billion) in alternative energy schemes, alongside the UK's Green Investment Bank (GIB).

In this regard, Saudi Arabia is deemed the most ambitious, as it is working on doubling its installed electricity capacity by building 54 GW of renewable energy, as well as 17.6 GW of nuclear power. Currently, Riyadh boasts the world's largest solar thermal plant at 36,300 square meters.

The region is witnessing another major project, Dubai's Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, which aims to generate 1 GW of PV [photovoltaic] and CSP [concentrated solar power] by 2030. The $3.2 billion, 48-square-kilometer park is the fruit of the personal vision of UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

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