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Yes, oil and natural gas are still king in the Middle East-Africa region, but solar energy is on the rise across the region, as governments, private sector businesses and international organizations are laying the foundation for industry development and sustainable growth, developments that could yield tremendous benefits socially and environmentally.

Clean Power

Middle East–Africa Solar PV Demand Will Increase 625% This Year

Yes, oil and natural gas are still king in the Middle East-Africa region, but solar energy is on the rise across the region, as governments, private sector businesses and international organizations are laying the foundation for industry development and sustainable growth, developments that could yield tremendous benefits socially and environmentally.

Petroleum and natural gas are still king in the Middle East and Africa but the region is emerging as a key marketplace for solar and other forms of renewable energy as well. Regional demand for solar photovoltaic (PV) power will reach 1 gigawatt (GW) in 2013, a 625% year-to-year increase from 2012’s 136 megawatts (MW), according to the new NPD Solarbuzz Middle East and Africa PV Market Report.

“Historically, the MEA region lagged behind global PV markets but is starting to catch up,” NPD Solarbuzz analyst Susanne von Aichberger was quoted in a press release. “By 2017, the region is forecast to account for 3.7 GW of annual PV demand, with the potential to reach up to 9 GW.”

Middle East-Africa: Solar Energy Emerging Martkets

Solar is gaining real traction in the Middle East, while solar, wind and geothermal energy are emerging as clean, alternative energy resources across Africa, but they’re a far cry from even beginning to rival oil and natural gas production and exploration.

With fast growing populations and economies, how quickly renewable energy and clean technology gain ground on fossil fuels will largely determine the path of socioeconomic development, environmental degradation and greenhouse gas emissions in both regions, including whether or not national governments in the Middle East and Africa can deliver and reach agreed-upon goals regarding sustainable development, carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, and multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), such as the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Abu Dhabi’s Masdar this past weekend announced that it had started up Shams 1, the largest concentrating solar power (CSP) plants in the world. With strong support from the World Bank Group, Morocco is planning to build a 500 MW CSP plant at Ouarzazate, a project that is expected to be completed in 2015.

Late last November, Saudi Arabia announced it plans to invest $109 billion to develop a solar industry capable of meeting a full one-third of electricity demand by 2032. Last July, the Oman Power and Water Procurement company announced it was investigating the possibility of building a 200 MW PV and CSP facility.

Then of course, there’s the hugely ambitious international Desertec solar project, one that envisions massive solar power farms being built in North African Sahara to serve West European, as well as local, markets.

And lest we forget, South Africa is on a solar and renewable energy roll as well, while solar power installations are also on the rise in Israel, which is probably further along than any country in the region when it comes to being a green economy incubator and leader in solar, renewable energy and clean tech R&D.

Solar in the MEA: Poised for Rapid Growth

All this said, solar PV deployment in the Middle East-Africa (MEA) region “has been confined mainly to development projects. In fact, the MEA region accounted for just 0.5% of global PV demand in 2012, despite comprising 17% of the world’s population,” NPD Solarbuzz notes in its latest Middle East-Africa PV Market Report.

Credit: Solarbuzz, "Middle East and Africa PV Market Report"

Image Credit: Solarbuzz, “Middle East and Africa PV Market Report”

In common with its many MEA countries, Oman has one of the highest solar insolation rates in the world, a lot of largely unused land, and a lot of quartz sand. Last July, the Oman Power and Water Procurement Company announced it investigating construction of a 200-MW solar PV and CSP facility.

Freshwater is more precious and valuable in the Middle East than oil or natural gas, with oil and natural gas-rich countries there using one to obtain the other. With fast-growing populations, Gulf Coast and Middle Eastern countries have been at the forefront when it comes to desalinating saltwater to produce freshwater.

While they have traditionally relied on natural gas or petroleum to power desalination plants, governments and emerging solar and renewable energy companies in the region, such as Masdar, are increasingly looking to solar PV as a more cost-effective and beneficial means of doing so.

In fact, solar PV demand in the MEA is “poised for rapid growth,” following the introduction of “ambitious funding schemes” across the MEA, “most notably in South Africa, Israel, and Saudi Arabia,” according to Solarbuzz, which forecasts the MEA region will account for 6% of global PV demand by 2017.

South Africa, Israel Leading the Way

South Africa will be the largest market in the region, “having completed the first two bidding rounds of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Program (REIPPP) in 2012,” a program that is slated to see 1.45 GW of new PV capacity ultimately installed.

Israel will be the second-largest solar PV market in the MEA this year, according to Solarbuzz, “driven by quotas, tenders, and a new net-metering scheme.”

Combined, South Africa and Israel will account for more than 80% of MEA solar PV demand in 2013, Solarbuzz forecasts.

Looking further ahead, Solarbuzz analysts see more MEA countries contributing to global solar PV demand, with South Africa and Israel’s share declining to below 50% by 2017. By then, “ground-mount PV applications will account for over 70% of PV demand across the MEA region.”

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I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.


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