Since December last year, a wave of demonstrations has been taking place in many parts of the Middle East. Rulers have been forced from power and regimes have been brought down. The revolutions have also caused drastic changes in the economy, not only in this region, but all over the globe. How does the Arab Spring in the Middle East drive forward the development of renewable energy?
Rising Oil Prices
Several of the countries that have been involved in the Arab Spring are big oil exporters, but the destruction in the political and economic system has had a massive impact on how much oil these countries can produce and distribute. Take Libya, for example — revenues have dropped by about 84% since war broke out. Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia have also taken big financial hits from the Arab Spring.
At the Singapore International Energy Week conference in late 2011, United Arab Emirates’ oil minister, Mohammed bin Dhaen al-Hamli, defined a “reasonable” price for oil to be $80 to $100 a barrel — an increase of $30 to $50 (approximately twice the amount!) compared to five years ago.
Oil demand, if anything, has risen over the last 6 months. Combine this with a reduced oil supply as a result of the rebellions, and oil prices naturally go up.
In many ways, the Arab Spring has given oil-exporting countries, which weren’t stricken by any serious upheaval among the population, a significant economic boost. On the other hand, instable and high oil prices have made the oil-importing countries start looking at renewables.
Renewable has Become Affordable
The demand of solar panels, wind turbines and other technologies that harness renewable sources of energy has never before been greater. The increasing oil prices are in some areas now on par with solar and wind, even without being heavily supported by government incentives.
Desertec is an ambitious project involving a series of massive solar power farms in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. This will not only generate electricity for the population in this region, but also be sent to Europe where emission cuts and green energy goals are slowly creeping in. In fact, the European market is the main goal.
So far, two Desertec projects have been given green lights:
- Ouarzazate Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant in Morocco. This 500-MW CSP plant was announced back in November 2011 (one month before the Arab Spring broke out)
- TuNur CSP plant in Tunisia, announced by the Desertec foundation in January this year. Once finished, the CSP plant will have a total capacity of 2 GW — roughly twice the amount of a typical nuclear power plant. In other words, it would be, by far, the largest solar thermal power plant ever to be built.
What is concentrated solar power? CSP is not the same as solar photovoltaics (what most people refer to as solar panels). CSP plants convert sunlight into heat, which is used to drive a steam turbine that generates electricity. Photovoltaics convert sunlight directly into electricity with the photovoltaic effect.
Since both technologies are based on solar energy, photovoltaics and CSP share many of the same benefits and issues. Most significant differences include better possibilities for energy storage by using molten salt in CSP, and that these power plants require higher insolation levels (which is why these massive power plants are being built in the MENA region).
The TuNur project, when finished, has a capacity over three times greater than the world’s largest solar PV power plant, which has 600 MW of capacity.
The Ouarzazate and TuNur CSP plants (and those yet to be announced) will produce electricity that will be sent on high-voltage DC transmission to Europe.
The same month as TuNur was officially locked in, the German and Swiss investment firms Terra Nex and Middle East Best Select announced that they were planning a $2-billion, 400-MW CSP project in Oman.
The three projects mentioned above are just a part of what has happened in the last several months, and an even smaller part of the many projects to be announced in the near future.
Political, financial and industry leaders gathered earlier this year in Abu Dhabi at the World Future Energy Summit, the world’s foremost meeting committed to advancing future energy and clean technologies. There, Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, stated the following:
“Abu Dhabi is becoming justifiably renowned as a hub for progress… we are on the brink of an exciting sustainable future — clean energy for all”
Supports Local Economic Growth
The renewable energy projects that we see taking place in the Middle East and North Africa obviously have clear environmental benefits. Parts of the MENA region uses disturbingly small amounts of renewable and green sources of energy compared to the rest of the world. Consequently, these are also the places where the potential for seeing a complete turnaround in energy is the greatest.
Then there are the many socio-economic benefits that come with a new flourishing industry.
Desertec Foundation estimates that 60% of the TuNur plant’s production costs will be spent within Tunisia, creating numerous jobs, a major advantage for the overall economy in a country that just threw its government out the window.
Fethi Somrani, director of TuNur Ltd., stated the following about the situation:
“Job creation can help alleviate the poverty and corruption that triggered the Arab Spring. What Tunisia now requires, is a clear perspective for its young population to let them fulfill their rights, jobs, democracy and a path to prosperity. With the TuNur project we take a concrete first step in this way.”
Source: Geopolicity’s The Cost of the Arab Spring