MENA Taps its Green Reserves

If you are looking for a powerful solar resource, then the relentless blue skies of the world’s desert regions have immediate appeal. As the chairman of the Desertec Foundation’s supervisory board said at its launch, the world’s desert regions receive more energy from the sun in six hours than humans consume within a year.

The band of countries that make up the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) are either desert or at best arid. There’s no precise list of which countries make up the region, as it is a geographical region rather than a political alliance, but at its broadest it includes Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemen, the overall population totalling some 355 million.

As economies have grown, so traditional, climate-adapted lifestyles have given way to ones associated with accompanying growth in consumption of energy and water. As in many other parts of the world, growing populations and their greater affluence are putting both these commodities under ever-greater pressure.

The MENA region has about 60% of the world’s oil reserves and 45% of reserves of natural gas. But these reserves are not evenly distributed and the economies of the various countries reflect this, with those of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE — among the most affluent.

While on average, around the world, the amount of water available per person is 7000 m³/year, in the MENA countries only 1200 m³/year is available per person, and half the region’s population lives in areas that are classed as water-stressed. World Bank figures suggest that as the region’s population grows from today’s 350 million to the 500 million forecast for 2025, per capita availability of water will fall dramatically.

It’s said that electricity and water do not mix — but it doesn’t mean they are not connected. In fact, not just electricity but the entire energy sector is tightly bound up with water usage and availability. On the one hand, water is needed for most power generation and the extraction and refining of oil. On the other, electric power is used for processing and pumping of water, and in this region especially, for desalination. So in the largely arid landscapes of the kind found in this part of the world, water and energy are especially closely linked — so much so that many countries here put both in the hands of a single government ministry.

This region is also being eyed as a solar energy source not only for its immediate hinterland but also for Europe. The Desertec initiative is aimed at meeting 15% of Europe’s energy needs, and a substantial part of the demand in Northern Africa and the Middle East, via concentrated solar plants and other renewable sources of energy by 2050.

After all this talk of water scarcity, it might seem ironic that the best-developed, non-fossil form of electric power production in the MENA region is hydro. Hydro — overwhelmingly large-scale — is particularly well developed in Iran, where some 7500 MW of installed capacity generate just over 18,000 GWh/year, and in Egypt (2800 MW, 14,000 GWh/year). Morocco (1500 MW, 1318 GWh/year) and Syria (1500 MW, 4000 GWh/year) are the other significant players. Iraq has 2225 MW installed but production is about 500 GWh/year. Algeria has 280 MW installed, which produces 226 GWh/year (World Energy Council, 2009).

But it is solar and wind technologies that are now being eyed for growth. The latest Energy [R]evolution report from Greenpeace, anticipates that, given political support and well-designed policy instruments, by 2050, 95% of the electricity produced in the Middle East (i.e. not counting North Africa) could come from renewable energy sources, with ‘new’ renewables — mainly wind, solar thermal energy and PV — contributing about 90% of electricity generation. The installed capacity of renewable energy technologies will grow from the current 10 GW to 556 GW in 2050. By then, renewables could meet 83% of the region’s demand for heating and cooling, says the report.

Some National Developments

Many of the political leaders in the MENA region embrace greenhouse gas reduction measures. Several countries have introduced renewable energy policies. Not surprisingly, these are the ones where the developments and markets have taken off. REN21‘s interactive global map gives up-to-date information on renewable energy policy by country and some developments.


Algeria’s national goal is to meet 6% of its energy demand from renewables by 2015, with 200 MW wind, 170 MW solar thermal, 5.1 MW solar PV by 2015, plus 450 MW of cogeneration. One solar thermal plant is under construction, and two Integrated Solar Combined Cycle (ISCC) hybrid plants, each with 70 MW of CSP, will be developed between 2010 and 2015. Algeria currently claims 2.28 MW of installed solar, and 73.3 kW of wind.

Northern Algeria is home to the world’s second ISCC plant, due for completion as REW goes to press. The €320 million ($440 million) 150 MWe Hassi R’Mel Project is being built on behalf of New Energy Algeria (NEAL) by two Abengoa subsidiaries: Abener and Abengoa Solar.

The project will adjoin an existing Sonelgaz power station at Tilghemt. At approximately 180,000 m², the two parabolic solar fields will comprise 224 parabolic collectors (Solucar) in 56 loops and the solar contribution is estimated at some 20 MWe. The solar installation will work in conjunction with two 42 MW SGT-800 gas turbines and a 80 MW SST-900 steam turbine, supplied by Siemens.


In February 2008, Egypt’s Supreme Council of Energy approved a plan for the country to produce 20% of its electric power from renewable sources by 2020. A new electricity act, currently undergoing consultation, will go some way to facilitating this. At present natural gas generates about 86 TWh/year and (large) hydro about 16 TWh.

Egypt’s electricity market is semi-reformed, in that in 2000 the government-owned electricity authority became a holding company, the EEHC, with 15 small affiliated state-owned companies looking after power generation, transmission (including international interconnections) and distribution. Currently, independent power producers sell to the EEHC, but the new electricity law will allow private companies to sell their output directly to consumers. The new law will also include a feed-in tariff for renewables.

Egypt has actively pursued renewables since 1986, when the New & Renewable Energy Authority (NREA) was set up. It established laboratories for testing, certification and training, as well as assessing renewable energy resources and carrying out studies and pilot projects to evaluate different technologies. The NREA introduced some of these technologies to the Egyptian market and supported local industry initiatives. Since then, several large-scale wind power projects have been constructed.

The 2020 target includes a 12% contribution from wind energy. According to GWEC, this translates into more than 7200 MW. The government anticipates that about 400 MW/year will be private sector, while the NREA will carry out about 200 MW/year. The most recent BTM report states Egypt had 552 MW of installed wind at the end of 2009, and is likely to reach 3 GW by 2014. And in May 2010 energy minister Hassan Younes reportedly said that an international tender for wind power plants with a total capacity of 1 GW would be offered before the end of the year to local and foreign investors.

Egypt’s first large-scale solar development is nearing completion 90 km south of Cairo at Kuraymat. The solar component of the ISCC plant is being built on behalf of the NREA by Solar Millennium, which installed the last of almost 2000 parabolic trough collectors — covering 130,000 m² — at the 150 MW solar farm in April 2010. The plant’s location gives access to the grid and natural gas pipelines, as well as to water from the Nile. Solar Millennium hopes the project will be a model for solar farms that the Desertec group plans to one day use to supply power to much of North Africa and southern Europe.

Regarding PV, the NREA signed a protocol for co-operation with the Italian Ministry of Environment to electrify two remote settlements in the Matrouh Governorate. The government is also stimulating solar investment by offering land to potential investors.


Jordan currently generates 1.5% of its power from renewable sources, and its policy is to reach 7% by 2015 and 10% by 2020. Pipeline projects suggest that Jordan is thinking big.

In January 2010 a new Renewable Energy Law was passed, under which the National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) will be required to purchase all electricity produced by independent and small-scale renewable plants at full retail price.

Ziyad Jibril, head of the Energy Ministry’s renewable energy department, also confirmed that NEPCO will be required to cover the cost of connecting renewable energy projects, whether wind farms, solar energy stations or other technologies, to the grid.

Negotiations for Jordan’s first wind farm are underway — the government wants to build 600 MW of wind by 2015 and a further 600 MW by 2020.

As for solar PV, In June 2010 Jordan’s Qawar Energy — in partnership with Ma’an Development Area (MDA) — announced the launch of its US$400 million Shams Ma’an project, a 100 MW solar PV project for the MDA industrial park. MDA wants to create a solar hub in Jordan for training, research and development besides attracting solar technology firms and investors. The technology to be used in the high-profile plant is not yet finalized; it will use 360,000 to 2 million PV/CPV panels and produce around 168 GWh per year, according to MDA. Ma’an Development Area’s CEO Mohammed S. Turk reportedly said that the importance of the project lies in transforming Jordan into a country able to benefit from one of its greatest available resources, the sun. The project, will cover 2 million m² in the southern part of Jordan, and is expected to be completed in 2012.

In concentrating solar thermal power, MENA Cleantech has its first solar project in the pipeline: the 100 MW JOAN1 project is expected to enter operation in 2013 and will be the largest CSP project in the world using direct solar steam generation. In a recent interview, MENA Cleantech founder/CEO Samer Zureikat said he hopes to have the contracts in place for this project by the end of 2010 and to commission the plant in 2013. Back in October 2009 it was announced that JOAN1 will use Ausra’s reflector technology.


Morocco is developing both wind and solar, and is the only North African country to have a grid interconnection with Europe at this stage. According to BTM, Morocco had 254 MW of wind power installed at the end of 2009 and is forecast to increase this to just over 1 GW by 2014. During 2009 it installed just 10 MW, however.

In November 2009, Morocco announced an ambitious solar programme, to install 2 GW of solar capacity by 2020 — a combination of PV and CSP — to provide 20% of the country’s electricity from solar. The estimated cost will be $9 billion. Energy Minister Amina Benkhadra has said Morocco is open to all kinds of partnership to achieve the goals. The Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), a public-private venture, has been set up to lead the project.

The country is currently commissioning its first ISCC project, the 470 MW plant at Ain Beni Mathar, which will have a 20 MWe solar component. The installation features a 180,000 m² solar field, with 224 solar collector assemblies in 56 loops. Abener, in collaboration with Abengoa Solar and Teyma has engineered, designed and built the plant under the terms of a turnkey contract with Moroccan state energy company ONE.

A second solar plant, the Ouarzazate solar independent power project, is in the more distant pipeline — a 500 MW plant whose EPCs should be awarded in the second quarter of 2011 according to MEED Projects.

Saudi Arabia

The Saudi Electric Company anticipates that electric loads will more or less double between 2009 and 2020. While it has not developed significant renewable energy as yet, Saudi Arabia does plan to develop solar over the next 5—10 years, even expressing ambitions to export solar energy, according to media reports.

As part of its solar programme, Saudi Arabia is focusing on solar water desalination. Typically oil fuelled, there are 28 or so desalination plants, which supply some 70% of the country’s drinking water as well as electric power. However, solar desalination using various solar technologies has been trialled and operated at small scale in various parts of the world. (A specific research report on the use of CSP for desalination, the Aqua CSP project, was published at the end of 2007.)

In April, IBM and the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) in Saudi Arabia, announced a research collaboration to create a water desalination plant powered by the ultra-high concentrator photovoltaic (UHCPV) technology that is being jointly developed by IBM and KACST; this technology is capable of operating a CPV system at a concentration greater than 1500 suns.

The new desalination plant has an expected production capacity of 30,000 m³ per day and will be built in the city of Al Khafji to serve 100,000 people. It will also use a particular type of nanomembrane developed by the partners.

PV panels installed by Abu Dhabi’s Masdar (Source: Masdar)

United Arab Emirates

The UAE, led by initiatives of Abu Dhabi, have taken a leading role in providing clean energy in recent years — both within the region and elsewhere — largely through the Masdar Initiative and its component parts. Abu Dhabi has a target of achieving 7% of its generation capacity from renewable sources by 2020, and is now home to IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency.

In June 2010, Masdar appointed a consortium of Total and Abengoa Solar as a partner to own, build and operate what will be the world’s largest CSP plant and the first of its kind in the Middle East, Shams 1.

Located about 120 km southwest of Abu Dhabi, Shams 1 will be the largest CSP plant in the world, covering an area of 2.5 km², with a capacity of approximately 100 MW. Its solar field will consist of 768 parabolic trough collectors, which will be supplied by Abengoa Solar. Construction is due to begin later this year and to take two years. The project is registered under the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and is eligible for carbon credits. This is the first CSP plant registered under the CDM and the second project registered for Masdar.


It seems the time really has come for this region to move beyond oil and develop its potential as a renewable energy powerhouse. The scale of the plans in the committed countries is impressive, and political motivation to achieve growth while reducing carbon emissions seems clear. There’s certainly scope for the region as a whole to follow the leaders.

Jackie Jones is consulting editor to Renewable Energy World.

Sidebar: How Electricity and Water do Mix

Conventional power production can make use of considerable quantities of water in cooling. Globally, about 8% of the planet’s water is used for drinking. In the United States (international figures are not available) thermoelectric power and industry account for about 7.5% of all water consumed (though theroelectric power production accounts for almost 40% of the total water withdrawn, i.e. made use of but almost immediately returned to source). Thermoelectric — mostly coal and nuclear — is little used in the MENA region, where power production is based largely on natural gas. It’s only in combined cycle mode (where waste heat plus water turn a steam turbine) that gas turbine power generation requires cooling water. In this region, heat can usefully be used in district cooling and desalination of seawater.

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