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Solar Power in the Desert: MENA Update

Wrought with desert conditions including sand, almost no rain and very hot sun, the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region of the world has recently captured the interest of solar power developers who see it as holding great potential for generating vast quantities of solar energy. Organizations are hard at work analyzing the region for its cost-competitiveness with conventional forms of energy. Other companies are performing R&D to figure out how to adapt solar power equipment to work in the hot, dry and gritty environment. For now, the region relies almost exclusively on fossil fuels to meet its energy needs but that may be changing soon.

A study by the Emirates Solar Industry Association (ESIA) showed that solar power is economically viable across MENA. The report authors say that the falling cost of solar panels, the rising cost of conventional fuels and the “excellent fit to demand patterns” are the reasons that solar power now makes sense in region. ESIA showed how during the hottest portion of the day, when office air conditioners are blasting, would be the time that solar power plants were at their generating the most amount of energy.

Siemens and research organization Masdar Institute said that they are working together to beef up the coatings that cover solar PV so that modules require less water for cleaning. The joint R&D effort is also working to identify commercial applications for solar technology in the middle east.

Desertec is alive and kicking, too. The Desertec Foundation released plans in January for a two gigawatt (GW) concentrating solar power (CSP) plant to be built in Tunisia.  Nur Energie and Tunisian partners are developing the project, which is called “TuNur.”  Construction on the first phase of the project should begin in 2014 with electricity being generated and sent to Europe by 2016.  Developers say the electricity will be transported via a new “low-loss transmission line to Italy.”

Wealth-management companies from Switzerland (Terra Nex) and Germany (Middle East Best Select) announced plans for a $U.S. 2 billion, 400 MW solar plant in Oman.  The plan includes building solar panel manufacturing plants as well a PV power plant.  The government plans to produce 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.  As of yet, there is no construction start date and/or timeline for completion of the project.

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