Middle East and North Africa Promoting Renewable Energy
From Global Arab Network
While countries such as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco stand to gain immensely from the advent of European investment in solar and wind power technology, other Arab states, notably in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), are looking to nuclear-generated electricity to resolve local power shortages and increase their desalinated water capacity.
Recent figures showing the massive energy potential of the Saharan sun have persuaded EU officials, as well as some of Europe’s biggest corporations – including Munich Re, Deutsche Bank, Siemens, E.ON and RWE of Germany, ABB of Switzerland, Abengoa of Spain – and Algeria’s Cevital to launch a $570 billion solar development programme. Desertec aims to generate up to 550GW of electricity over the next 40 years, from installations that will initially be located in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt and later in the deserts of the Middle East from Turkey to Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
An initial $5.5 billion in funding was announced in December 2009 by the World Bank’s Clean Technology Fund. The power will be used for local needs, as well as for export to Europe, through 20 high-voltage, direct current cables laid under the Mediterranean Sea, costing up to $1 billion each.
The Middle East and North African (MENA) states could earn up to $90 billion a year from such exports, according to a report by the US management consultants AT Kearney, and help to provide up to 100,000 new jobs in the region.
Another massive scheme, the Mediterranean Solar Plan, has been set up by French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Union for the Mediterranean. It will cost some EUR60 billion and aims to produce 20GW of power by 2020. Like Desertec, it will use concentrated solar power from giant reflecting surfaces connected to super turbines, as well as the more conventional photo-voltaic (PV) technologies that rely on solar panels.
Last October, the EU launched its Green Energy Market at a conference in Brussels, attended by energy and foreign ministers from throughout MENA, as well as the EU. The plan seeks to emphasise renewable energies and energy efficiency as a way to address the rapidly rising demand for energy throughout MENA, as well as providing clean energy exports to Europe.
Brussels is already embarked on a plan to help integrate energy markets in the Maghreb and the Gulf states and to promote co-operation between Mediterranean energy regulators, as well as establishing a regional renewable energy centre in Cairo.
Several Arab countries have also signed agreements with European partners to develop solar energy and other renewables. Qatar is investing $220 million in a low-carbon technology fund in Britain. Jordan’s King Abdullah is making 2 million square metres of land available to build the world’s largest PV plant, costing $400 million, with the help of Solar Ventures of Italy.
The newly opened King Abdullah University for Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia is funding programmes to develop renewable energies and related technologies in partnership with universities in the UK, Italy, the Netherlands and the US. In September 2009, the minister for petroleum and mineral resources, Ali al-Naimi, announced that the Kingdom plans to make solar energy a major contributor to its energy supply within the next five to ten years. In addition, he said: “Saudi Arabia aspires to export as much solar energy in the future as it exports oil now.”
In the UAE, the $22 billion Masdar City aims to create an entire carbon-neutral urban conglomeration and to showcase the best available technologies for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, including solar and wind power. Masdar City is to be the headquarters of the new International Renewable Energy Agency and home to Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, an affiliate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mubadala, the parent company of Masdar (Abu Dhabi Future Energy Co) is investing in solar-panel manufacturing plants in Germany as well as in the UAE to power the new city. The UAE’s Masdar Institute and the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change are co-funding research into renewable energy policy, to support the work of the International Renewable Energy Association, and are also launching a partnership of government bodies and private sector companies to help small businesses to deploy more low carbon energy sources.
The UAE, which has one of the world’s largest carbon footprints, is also well advanced in developing a large-scale programme to generate nuclear energy as part of its plan to obtain 7 per cent of its electricity needs from renewable energy by 2020. Current plans call for the construction of 14 nuclear power plants, with at least three completed by 2020, when, the government estimates, an additional 40GW of electricity will be needed.
The UAE, in line with the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and has agreed to obtain its nuclear fuel from “reliable and responsible international suppliers”.
Elsewhere in the GCC, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar are also preparing policies and legal measures to introduce nuclear energy with the help of the International Atomic Energy Agency, France and Russia. A number of other countries in the MENA region are also looking at developing civilian nuclear power plants.
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