Middle East leaders seek solar, wind innovators to support growth

Developers must invent new technologies and embrace small business entrepreneurs to support accelerating renewable energy growth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), leading government officials told the MENA New Energy 2017 conference on April 25.

Climate change objectives, low oil prices and falling technology costs have led to ambitious renewable energy objectives in MENA countries. Large-scale solar projects in United Arab Emirates and Morocco have helped cut industry costs and installed capacity is set to rise sharply in the coming years.

Around 4 GW of PV capacity and 1.3 GW of CSP capacity is currently under development in the MENA region, according to a report by the Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA) published in February.

UAE and Morocco have been front-runners in MENA renewable energy development but countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are accelerating deployment to diversify away from hydrocarbons.

Saudi Arabia recently revealed plans to develop 3.5 GW of renewables by 2020, rising to 9.5 GW by 2023, requiring up to $50 billion of investment. The Kingdom is currently seeking bids to build 700 MW of wind and solar power and is expected to launch a tender for another 1 GW of projects later this year.

Kuwait could deploy 2 GW of solar power by 2020, well in advance of a previous target of 2 GW by 2030, Dr Raed Sherif, a senior consultant at Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), told the MENA New Energy 2017 conference.

Kuwait is currently developing several large scale solar projects which will provide business opportunities in utility-scale PV, rooftop PV and CSP projects, Sherif said.

"There are still many challenges, however we are looking to collaborate with international companies to [deliver] innovative solutions," he said.

Oil allies

Much of the current project development in Kuwait is being led by state-owned oil companies which own a lot of the prime land for renewable energy projects.

In October 2016, KOC commissioned the 10 MW Sidrah 500 PV plant, the company's first utility scale PV plant. Downstream oil company Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC) has also committed to install rooftop solar projects across all existing and future fuel stations and the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) is currently developing the Al-Shagaya renewable energy park in north-west Kuwait.

KISR's Al-Shagaya Phase 1 project includes 10 MW of PV capacity, commissioned in November 2016, 10 MW of wind power capacity and 50 MW of CSP to be commissioned in April 2018.

"The project is located in the very far end of Kuwait, in the north-west. So there has to be associated effort to build overhead lines as well as a 132 KV substation," Sherif said.

KNPC is set to build a further 1 GW of solar capacity though its Al-Dibdibah project and the Kuwait Authority for Partnership Projects (KAPP) is also planning to develop 500 MW of solar capacity, he said.

KNPC's Al-Dibdibah project was originally expected to be built at the Al-Shagaya renewable energy park but requirements for new infrastructure around Al-Shagaya have prompted the authorities to examine other sites for this project, Sherif said.

"The RFP [Request for Proposals] for this project should come out some time this year," he said.

  Predicted renewable energy jobs in Gulf Cooperation Council countries in 2030

Source: International Renewable Energy Association (IRENA), 2016

Advanced technology

The Kuwait authorities are seeking innovations in hybrid PV-wind, PV-CSP, PV-diesel, to support the kingdom's solar expansion program, Sherif said. In addition, advances in energy storage and the optimisation of land usage could help lower costs, he said.

"Land is very valuable-- we need technologies that can optimise in terms of land," he said.

Solar developers must demonstrate experience working in similar types of conditions and new automated technologies should help to lower cleaning costs for solar plants, Sherif said.

A range of new robotic technologies are cutting panel cleaning costs, offering rapid-response units and Return on Investment (ROI) in as little as 1.5 years, technology experts told New Energy Update last month. These technologies are improving cleaning efficiency and eliminating the need for water, offering major potential savings on vehicle and labor costs.

"Automated cleaning is something we would like very much given the dust conditions in Kuwait," Sherif said.

Potential project partners must also be willing to work under original payment terms designed to share project risk, Sherif said.

"The KOC [Sidrah 500] project that we have done actually had a payment structure that was quite different from the traditional [Engineering procurement contractor] or power purchase agreement model," he noted.

Supporting innovation

MENA governments have invested in supportive development regimes to accelerate development.

The Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (MASEN) has provided financial and infrastructure support to reduce developer risk for Morocco's large-scale solar expansion, Tarik Bourquouquou, Planning and Methods Officer, MASEN, noted. Morocco is looking to install around 4 GW of wind and solar power by 2020, rising to 10 GW by 2030.

Morocco is developing both PV and CSP plants through its large-scale Noor projects and the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy (MASEN) has taken equity stakes in projects and acted as a bank by packaging contributions from International Financial Institutions (IFIs), Bourquouquou said.

MASEN has also performed environmental studies, carried out planning procedures and build local site infrastructure to provide a "plug and play" environment for developers, he said.

"This gives comfort and visibility to the developer and allows us to lower the [levelized cost of electricity] even more, and to give a consistency to the complexes, create synergies and save time and costs," he said.

Going forward, companies must continue to innovate to create sustainable projects, HE Dr. Rashid Al Leem, Chairman of UAE's SEWA (Sharjah Electricity & Water Authority), told the conference.

The oil price crisis has highlighted the difficulty in long-term forecasting and Al Leem predicted "turbulent times" for business leaders going forward.

The renewable energy industry must continue to support small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in order to drive forward innovation, Al Leem said.

"Yesterday tools are yesterday's and they are not going to be applicable for tomorrow...let us support the SMEs... They are a source of innovation and creativity," he said.

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