Solar Energy in the Middle East/ North Africa

String growth has been forecasted in the Middle East/ North Africa (MENA region), especially in the gulf. The MENA region includes UAE (United Arab Emirates), Oman, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait (GCC), Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria.

Figure 1: Noor Ouarzazate Concentrated Solar Power Station Complex. Morocco, Maghreb North Africa

The UAE has been the forerunner in the energy transition in the gulf region. BY 2030, UAE plans to generate 50% of its energy needs from carbon-free technologies mainly driven by solar and Dubai plans to generate 75% of its energy need from renewable energy sources by 2050. The Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai is the largest single-site solar park in the world with a capacity of 5GW. The project is set to be completed by 2030. The current total production capacity has reached around 900 MW. In Abu Dhabi, a new cycle of tenders has been given out to increase the solar capacity. The solar park at Noor is the world’s largest solar park with a total of 1.18 GW. The project is up and running and provides power with more than 3.2 million panels employed in an area of 8 km2. In early 2019, a 2 GW solar project was decided to be installed in Al Darah. The project is expected to be completed in Q1 2022.

The Northern Emirates has also shown some interest, this region includes Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujeirah, and Umm al-Quwain and they have planned to install 300MW of solar projects. Also, the emirate of Umm Al-Quwain has planned the development of a 200 MW solar park. Further details haven’t been released yet.

Figure 1: UAE Global Horizontal Irradiation (GHI) – the total solar irradiation on a horizontal surface. Source: PVGIS

Saudi Arabia has set ambitious targets to increase their renewable capacity from 9.5 GW to 27.3 GW under its National Renewable Energy Program (NREP) of which 20 GW of energy will be coming from solar energy. Largely, the solar energy market in Saudi Arabia has been driven by large-scale utility projects only. In 2020, Saudi Arabia enforced new regulations that will force power distributors to help install rooftop PV systems ranging from 1 kW-2 MW for homeowners and businesses.

Oman is one of the countries that receive the highest solar irradiation in the middle east region. Despite this fact, it has only recently started investing in solar energy. Oman’s largest utility-scale renewable energy project, and also the first independent solar energy project was recently launched after a 1-year construction period. The Ibri 2 solar field has a capacity of 500 MW. This plant consists of bifacial panels and this is set to help Oman achieve its target of having renewables generate 20% of its electricity by 2030.

North Africa has enormous potential in solar energy but huge investments and public support are needed for large-scale projects. Egypt has set itself the goal of achieving 42% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2035. The Ben Ban solar park was inaugurated in 2019 has a total installed capacity of 1650 MW. In 2021 Egypt signed a contract for $700 million which included 32 solar power projects for the Kom Ombo Solar Energy Complex. The country has been looking into linking power networks to Europe through Greece but no details have been released as of now as the plan is still at an early stage.

In Morocco, renewable energy makes up almost two-fifths of the total electricity generation. The country boasts about some of the largest clean energy projects are being constructed in the country. Morocco has since pledged to increase the renewables in its electricity mix to 52% by 2030 with solar making 20 % of the total capacity. A 500 MW solar park was planned to develop that will include several small-scale utility projects The first plant within this complex is the 170 MW Noor I, a CSP power plant. The Noor solar power plant in Morocco is the world’s largest CSP plant. Noor II will be based on the parabolic trough CSP technology with a capacity of 200 MW and Noor III will be 150 MW CAP plant.  Both Noor II and III started delivering clean electricity to the grid in 2019. Morocco still imports most of its energy to meet its rising energy consumption, at the recent COP 26 Morocco was among the 20 countries who made a new commitment to building no new coal power plants.

Kuwait has so far has been falling behind in installing PV plants and is actively trying to increase its installation capacity. Like most of the countries in the middle east region, installations are largely dependant on the public sector. Due to the pandemic, the solar sector has been hugely affected but the county is implementing subsidies for electricity tariffs and also creating awareness about roof top solar systems. Even though Kuwait has had a slow start, it is expected to catch up with its renewable energy targes and with other gulf countries soon.

Figure 3: Benban plant in Aswan, Egypt Source: Stock Photo

Renewable power capacity in Egypt is expected to increase from 3.51 GW in 2020 to 13.7 GW in 2030, with PV contributing up to 7.71 GW by 2030. The Egyptian government has been implementing new feed-in tariffs and other schemes to rapidly accelerate the development of renewable power in the country. Solar and wind projects of 10GW is expected to be developed by 2022. These projects will reduce the country's dependency on natural gas and oil and will help the county to reach its goals under the Paris climate agreement.

In the MENA region, the residential sector accounts for the majority of electricity consumption followed by the industrial and commercial sectors. The use of rooftop systems has been gaining momentum in the region but MENA is still far behind other parts of the world nevertheless the countries are actively taking steps to ensure they completely phase out the use of fossil fuels and increase their renewable energy output.

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