Region emerging as one of the world’s largest renewable energy markets

31 JULY, 2017

Komal Jadhwani

The Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region is embarking on an unprecedented programme to develop renewable energy, with more than 67GW of clean energy projects at various stages of the design and study stage, according to Renewable Energy in the Mena Region 2017, a new report from business intelligence service MEED. 

MEED estimates this will require investment upwards of $200bn, in addition to the expansion and upgrading of existing networks to facilitate the extra capacity.

The pipeline of renewable energy projects will increase further in the next five years as governments seek to meet the rapidly growing demand for power through implementing ambitious renewable energy programmes.

Unsurprisingly, due to the region’s significant hydrocarbons reserves, the Middle East has been slow to adopt renewable energy. However, this has started to change significantly over the past five years. In 2013, the UAE emirate of Abu Dhabi commissioned the region’s first utility-scale solar plant, the 100MW Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) facility. Since then, the dramatic fall in the cost of photovoltaic (PV) solar has resulted in regional utilities launching some of the world’s largest solar projects, which have been supported by the submission of record-low tariffs.

In the 12 countries covered in depth by the report, total installed generating capacity in 2015 was 271,761MW, with just over 7 per cent of this coming from renewable energy capacity. However, the vast majority of this capacity is hydropower, with only Morocco in North Africa and Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the UAE having commissioned solar projects with capacities greater than 100MW.

This is set to change significantly in the coming years, with the record-low tariffs being achieved for utility-scale renewables projects throughout the region changing the perceptions of governments and utilities towards renewable energy. From almost an absence of renewable energy 10 years ago, almost all of the 12 countries analysed in the report have some form of renewable energy targets.

MEED’s latest report provides a detailed breakdown and country-by-country analysis of renewable energy targets and planned projects, along with clients and key players in each market.

Mena installed renewables capacity and targets (Sources: MEED; Irena)

While the favourable conditions for implementing renewable energy in the Mena region have long been known, the push from governments to shore up energy security through diversification of fuel for power generation and the falling cost of technologies are driving the push towards major clean energy programmes.

Gas concerns

A key driver behind the push for energy diversification in the Mena region is the sharp growth in demand for gas. With increased efficiency and lower emissions than other fossil fuels, gas has become the favoured fuel for power generation across the region over the past two decades.

However, with the exception of Qatar, all the GCC states are facing a tight gas market, with competing demands from the oil, industrial and utility sectors. Outside the GCC, Jordan has been hit by a rising energy import bill in recent years as it has been forced to increase the use of oil due to the decline of natural gas supplies from Egypt. In North Africa, Egypt has also turned to liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports and Morocco is planning an ambitious $4.6bn gas-to-power project to boost gas supplies and generation capacity.

While new alternatives such as nuclear and coal are being explored and a handful of projects are being implemented across the region, renewable energy is quickly emerging as the preferred alternative to conventional oil and gas-fired plants. The key driver behind the push for renewable energy is economics, with renewable energy not only achieving parity with traditional thermal fossil fuel generation in the Middle East, but in 2016 actually falling below those achieved for conventional fossil fuel-fired plants.

Falling cost

The fall in the oil price has resulted in an increased drive for private sector participation in the region’s utilities markets. The move towards the independent power project (IPP) and independent water and power project (IWPP) model has enabled some of the largest international developers to bid competitively and submit some of the lowest prices in the world for renewable energy schemes.

Although competitively tendered IPPs will continue to drive the region’s largest renewable projects, some of the region’s less wealthy governments have been implementing alternative frameworks and policies to kick-start renewable energy programmes on a smaller scale. The implementation of a well-structured feed-in-tariff (FiT) programme) in Jordan has allowed Amman to develop significant renewable energy capacity with cost-effective tariffs.

While much of the focus of the region’s renewables market to date has been on large-scale utility solar and wind projects, if the region is to achieve some of its most ambitious long-term goals, the successful deployment of small-scale renewable initiatives is vital. MEED’s latest report analyses plans and initiatives for rooftop solar and off-grid solar initiatives throughout the region.

Covering 12 countries, MEED’s latest Renewable Energy in the MENA region 2017 report explains the structure of the renewables market in each geography, the key government actors driving investment in the sector, existing capacity, projects planned and under way, and incentives for investing in renewables.