What’s driving the huge expansion of solar in the oil-rich area?
The United Arab Emirates are amongst the world’s top oil exporters, producing 3230 thousands of barrels per day. Given the huge amount of oil the country is sitting on, it’s only surprising that it is also set to host one of the world’s largest solar farms. Not far from Dubai, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park is expected to go from 13 to 3000 MW in the next 15 years. Morocco is also building a world-record concentrated solar power plant that will cover a quarter of the country’s energy needs while helping with the rising oil prices. Other countries in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) are investing heavily on solar, proving their commitment to fighting climate change. 2014 was particularly eventful, with a dozen new solar project in Jordan alone and a total of 30 in the whole Middle East.
Is oil going out of style?
MENA countries have just recently started embracing renewables, significantly later than the rest of the world. The reasons behind this lag are several: political instability, wars, and most importantly the long standing reliance on abundant oil resources have discouraged the consideration of alternative power sources. Oil and gas will continue to be of paramount importance for the MENA countries, but a shift might be in the works. As solar power prices drop and oil goes up, it may become much more convenient for them to solely export oil and use renewables domestically. However the United Arab Emirates, which are leading the MENA’s green revolution, will use natural gas powered turbines as their main electricity generators (accounting for 71% of the total energy portfolio), with solar coming second (15%). Oil will be gradually removed from the mix to be exported.
Solar power’s benefits
Solar power is a logical option, because of the region’s high sun exposure and large deserted spaces. Moreover, it would be ideal to power large water-recycling and desalinization plants that these countries need because of the scarcity of water that has historically troubled them. Powering these plants with solar energy instead of fossil fuels would significantly reduce carbon emissions and opportunity costs. Moreover, the recent population and economic growth has increased demand for electricity, which is an issue especially for oil-importing countries like Morocco that would greatly benefit from new and renewable sources. Morocco has chosen to install wind, solar and hydro plants to eventually become an exporter of renewables. This remarkable feat will not be easy to accomplish: the country has a low GDP and will have to rely on loans from international organizations. At the moment, one of the largest CSP plants in the world is being built in Morocco to kickstart the country’s energy agenda.