Solar Energy in Saudi Arabia: Perspectives

Saudi Arabia, the epicenter of global oil industry, has been showing keen interest in solar energy in recent years. Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s highest solar irradiation in the world, estimated at approximately 2,200 thermal kWh of solar radiation per m2. The country is strategically located near the Sun Belt, in addition to plentiful availability of empty stretches of desert that may accommodate infrastructure for solar power projects.

Vast deposits of sand can be used in the manufacture of silicon PV cells which makes Saudi Arabia an attractive location for solar industry. “The resource is stunning; land is abundantly available; the transmission grid system is relatively new, highly resilient and capable of accommodating intermittent loads; and the creditworthiness of KSA is unbeatable as demonstrated by response to the nation's first ever international bond offering”, explains Paddy Padmanathan, CEO of ACWA Power, one of the world’s leading solar developers.

Another important driver for solar energy deployment in Saudi Arabia is astonishingly high per capita primary energy consumption, four times higher than the global average. The total energy consumption in the Kingdom is rapidly rising at a rapid rate of 6 percent per annum which also presents a strong case for diversification of energy sources.

Slow Progress Yet Ambitious Goals

Despite its tremendous potential, solar energy sector in Saudi Arabia is still in early stages. “Saudi Arabia is yet to turn its huge solar potential into reality”, says Makio Yamada, Research Fellow at King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (Riyadh). In 2012, the government unveiled plans to invest more than $100 billion in clean energy projects till 2030 in order to generate 41GW, a third of its power requirements, from renewable resources, primarily solar energy.

However, the government drastically scaled back the program in January 2015 and set a more realistic renewables target 14% of current generating capacity (9.5GW) by 2030.  “The installed solar capacity is less than a fifth of that in the UAE which can be attributed to institutional fragmentation and lack of effective collaboration between relevant state and semi-state organizations”, adds Yamada.

The newly launched Vision 2030 document puts forward a strong regulatory and investment framework to develop Saudi solar energy sector, financed in part by $2 trillion sovereign fund. “Vision 2030 highlights renewable energy as a strategic priority for Saudi Arabian economy which would help in economic diversification away from oil revenues, increasing energy security, diversify energy mix, free up oil for export, enhance regulatory framework, and support development of renewable energy industry, thus paving the way for a low-carbon economy in the Kingdom”, say Eaman Abdullah Aman, a Saudi energy expert and writer.

Infact, Saudi Arabia’s long-term goal is to become the leading exporter of solar energy in Middle East and Vision 2030 is expected to play a key role in realizing this objective. “What makes Vision 2030 and King Salman Renewable Energy Initiative different from previous programs is that they represent the highest level commitment to renewable energy ever seen from the Kingdom”, emphasizes Nada.

Under the King Salman Renewable Energy Initiative, the government will review the legal and regulatory framework for private-sector investment in order to encourage public-private partnerships and promote local manufacture. “The new targets and strategy outlined in Vision 2030 and National Transformation Plan is very much in sync with fuel mix trends around the world”, observes Padmanathan.

Winds of Change

The first renewable energy initiative from the Saudi government was the establishment of King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE) in 2010, which is the official agency in-charge of promoting clean energy in the Kingdom. One of its major achievements has been the establishment of 3.5MW PV project at the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center. 

Saudi Arabia’s long-term goal is to become a leading exporter of solar energy

Saudi Arabia’s first competitive global tender for utility-scale solar power projects was recently launched – two 50 MW solar power plants at Al-Jouf and Rafha. Though current installed solar capacity in the country is a measly 25MW, world’s leading solar energy companies are already active in the local market, mainly due to the promise and potential of Saudi solar sector. “We already have two pilot projects in place: the first is solar-powered irrigation project at Al-Jouf while the other one is a carport solar power plant for the Saudia Dairy and Foodstuff Company (SADAFCO) in Riyadh”, informs Ahmed Nada, Vice President and Region Executive – Middle East at First Solar.

In addition to solar PV, concentrated solar power (CSP) is an interesting option for Saudi Arabia due to its strong dependence on desalination plants to meet its water requirement. Waste heat of a CSP plant can be used to power seawater desalination projects. In 2015, Saudi Electric Company selected CSP to produce electricity with 550MW Duba 1 project, an integrated Solar Combined Cycle Power Plant located near Tuba. The plant, still in tendering phase, is designed to integrate a parabolic trough unit of around 20 to 30MW. 

Outlook for the Future

Due to its regional dominance, Saudi Arabia can play a vital role in the proliferation of solar energy in the entire Middle East. “The Kingdom needs to urgently move forward with its renewable energy plans and start the production of solar energy on a large-scale”, says Padmanathan. “The current focus is on increasing levels of efficiency, reducing subsidy and slashing government expenditure and on doing things that truly add value”, he adds.

“Vision 2030 target suggests that the country will grow its renewable energy capacity in increments, taking advantage of future cost declines and efficiency improvements, while also leaving the door open for emerging technologies”, says Nada. Under the new leadership of King Salman, the country is making a concerted effort to develop its renewable energy sector. “The reorganization of stakeholders and decision makers on energy policy and renewables, under one umbrella, should accelerate KSA’s renewable energy program”, observes Nada. The government restructuring in May 2016 placed necessary administrative functions under the newly-created super-ministry, the Ministry of Energy, Industry, and Mineral Resources which will eventually pave the way for implementation of solar projects.

However, there are several critical areas which Saudi Arabia should tackle for a smooth transition to renewables-focused energy mix. “Saudi Arabia should take a consultative approach on its renewable energy policy framework by leaning on capable, credible industry partners to share their expertise which will help the country avoid the steep learning curve that other markets have faced”, explains Nada. Lenders and financiers are an integral part of any industry, and they should be properly informed about green financing. “It will be particularly important for banks and lenders based in the Kingdom to better understand the solar energy industry, ensuring that they’re comfortable with providing competitive financing for the program”, stresses Nada.

It is also essential to adapt solar energy systems to meet specific energy-intensive applications. “Saudi Arabia could provide long-term solar energy targets for certain, energy-intensive industrial sectors such as cement, steel and petrochemicals”, says Nada.

Lastly, a well-trained and performing workforce is crucial for the development of solar market. “Saudi Arabia needs to invest wisely in technical education to overcome the skills mismatch between schools and the labour market and ensure the supply of rightly-trained human resources to the solar industry”, stresses Yamada.

African Development Bank and Renewable Energy

Africa has huge renewable energy potential with some of the world’s largest concentration of alternative energy resources in the form of solar, wind, hydro, and energy. Overall, 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa are in the top-33 countries worldwide with combined reserves of solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal energy far exceeding annual consumption. Most of the sub-Saharan countries receive solar radiation in the range of 6-8 kWh/m2/day, which counts among the highest amounts of solar radiation in the world. Until now, only a small fraction of Africa’s vast renewable energy potential has been tapped.  The renewable energy resources have the potential to cover the energy requirements of the entire continent.

The African Development Bank has supported its member countries in their energy development initiatives for more than four decades. With growing concerns about climate change, AfDB has compiled a strong project pipeline comprised of small- to large-scale wind-power projects, mini, small and large hydro-power projects, cogeneration power projects, geothermal power projects and biodiesel projects. The major priorities for the Bank include broadening the supply of low-cost environmentally clean energy and developing renewable forms of energy to diversify power generation sources in Africa. The AfDB’s interventions to support climate change mitigation in Africa are driven by sound policies and strategies and through its financing initiatives the Bank endeavors to become a major force in clean energy development in Africa.

Energy projects are an important area of the AfDB’s infrastructure work, keeping in view the lack of access to energy services across Africa and continued high oil prices affecting oil-importing countries. AfDB’s Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), and other programmes, are in the process of identifying priority investment projects in renewable energy, which also include small and medium scale hydro and biomass co-generation.  The Bank supports its member countries towards developing renewable energy projects in three ways:

  • By encouraging countries to mainstream clean energy options into national development plans and energy planning.
  • By promoting investment in clean energy and energy efficiency ventures
  • By supporting the sustainable exploitation of the huge energy potential of the continent, while supporting the growth of a low-carbon economy.

FINESSE Africa Program

The FINESSE Africa Program, financed by the Dutch Government, has been the mainstay of AfDB’s support of renewable energy and energy efficiency since 2004. The Private Sector department of AfDB, in collaboration with the Danish Renewable Energy Agency (DANIDA), has developed a robust project pipeline of solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy projects for upcoming five years. 

The FINESSE program has helped in project preparation/development for Lesotho (rural electrification by means of different sources of renewable energy), Madagascar (rural water supply using solar water pumps), Ghana (energy sector review) and Uganda (solar PV for schools and boarding facilities), as well as on the development of the energy component of the Community Agricultural Infrastructure Improvement Program in Uganda (solar PV, hydropower and grid extension), the Bank’s initiative on bio-ethanol in Mozambique (including co-funding a recent bio fuels workshop in Maputo) and the AfDB Country Strategy Paper revision in Madagascar.

Clean Energy Investment Framework

The AfDB’s Clean Energy Investment Framework aims at promoting sustainable development and contributing to global emissions reduction efforts by using a three-pronged approach: maximize clean energy options, emphasize energy efficiency and enable African countries to participate effectively in CDM sector. The AfDB’s interventions to support climate change mitigation in Africa are driven by sound policies and strategies and through its financing initiatives the Bank endeavors to become a major force in clean energy development in Africa.

In order to finance energy access and clean energy development operations, the Bank Group will draw on resources from its AfDB non-concessional window to finance public-sponsored projects and programs in countries across Africa. According to the Framework, AfDB will work with a range of stakeholders (national governments, regional organizations, sub-sovereign entities, energy and power utilities, independent power producers and distributors, sector regulators, and civil society organizations) on key issues in clean energy access and climate adaptation in all regional member countries. 

Climate Investment Funds

Part of the AfDB’s commitment to supporting Africa’s move toward climate resilience and low carbon development is expanding access to international climate change financing. The African Development Bank is implementing the Climate Investment Funds (CIF), a pair of funds designed to help developing countries pilot transformations in clean technology, sustainable management of forests, increased energy access through renewable energy, and climate-resilient development. The AfDB has been involved with the CIF since their inception in 2008. 

The Bank is actively supporting African nations and regions as they develop CIF investment plans and then channeling CIF funds, as well as its own co-financing, to turn those plans into action. One of the Climate Investment Funds, the Clean Technology Fund (CTF) provides developing countries with positive incentives to scale up the demonstration, deployment, and transfer of technologies with a high potential for long-term greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions savings. 

In the Middle East and North Africa region, US$750 million in CTF funding is supporting deployment of 1GW of solar power generation capacity, reducing about 1.7 million tons of CO2 per year from the energy sectors of Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. In Morocco, US$197 million in CTF funding is cofinancing the world’s largest concentrated solar power initiative. Another US$125 million is helping scale up investments in its wind energy program targeting 2GW by 2020.

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Unleashing Solar Power in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is the largest consumer of petroleum in the Middle East, with domestic consumption reaching 4 million barrels per day in 2012 out of daily production of 10 million barrels. Saudi Arabia’s primary energy consumption per capita is four times higher than the world average. Strong industrial growth, subsidized oil prices, increasing energy demand for electricity and transportation is leading to a growing clamor for oil in the country. The total energy consumption in the Kingdom is rapidly rising at an average rate of about 6 percent per annum.

Solar Energy Prospects 

To meet the rising local energy demand, Saudi Arabia plans to increase generating capacity to 120 GW by 2020. Residential sector holds the biggest share of total energy consumption, accounting for as much as 80 percent of the electricity usage. Despite being the leading oil producer as well as consumer, Saudi Arabia is showing deep interest in the development of large projects for tapping its rich renewable energy potential, especially solar power. The country plans to invest more than $100 billion in clean energy projects to meet its objective of getting one-third of electricity requirements from alternative energy resources.

There is a growing Interest in utilization of solar energy in Saudi Arabia as the country is blessed with abundant solar flux throughout the year. Saudi Arabia has one of the highest solar irradiation in the world, estimated at approximately 2,200 thermal kWh of solar radiation per square meter. The country is strategically located near the Sun Belt, not to mention wide availability of empty stretches of desert that may accommodate solar power generating infrastructure. Moreover, vast deposits of sand can be used in the manufacture of silicon PV cells which makes Saudi Arabia an attractive location for both CSP and PV power generation. 

Promising Developments

The first initiative from the government was the establishment of King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE) which is the official agency in-charge of promoting clean energy in the Kingdom. The kingdom is planning to add an additional 41 GW of solar power by 2032, with 16 GW to be generated by photovoltaics and 25 GW by solar thermal power plants. One of the major achievements was the establishment of 3.5MW PV project at the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center. 

Concentrated solar power is another interesting option for Saudi Arabia due to its strong dependence on desalination plants to meet its water requirement. Waste heat of a CSP power plant can be used to power seawater desalination projects. Recently Saudi Electric Company has selected CSP to produce electricity with 550MW Duba 1 project, an integrated Solar Combined Cycle Power Plant located 50km north of Duba near Tuba. The plant is designed to integrate a parabolic trough unit of around 20 to 30MW. 

Keeping in view its regional dominance, Saudi Arabia can play a vital role in the popularization of solar energy in the MENA region. Solar energy program may not only augment oil-wealth of the Kingdom, but also transform Saudi Arabia into a net solar power exporter in the near future. 

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CSP-Powered Desalination Prospects in MENA

Conventional large-scale desalination is cost-prohibitive and energy-intensive, and not viable for poor countries in the MENA region due to increasing costs of fossil fuels. In addition, the environmental impacts of desalination are considered critical on account of GHG emissions from energy consumption and discharge of brine into the sea. The negative effects of desalination can be minimized, to some extent, by using renewable energy to power the plants.

What is Concentrated Solar Power

The core element of Concentrated Solar Power Plant is a field of large mirrors reflecting captured rays of sun to a small receiver element, thus concentrating the solar radiation intensity by several 100 times and generating very high temperature (more than 1000 °C). This resultant heat can be either used directly in a thermal power cycle based on steam turbines, gas turbines or Stirling engines, or stored in molten salt, concrete or phase-change material to be delivered later to the power cycle for night-time operation. CSP plants also have the capability alternative hybrid operation with fossil fuels, allowing them to provide firm power capacity on demand. The capacity of CSP plants can range from 5 MW to several hundred MW.

Three types of solar collectors are utilized for large-scale CSP power generation – Parabolic Trough, Fresnel and Central Receiver Systems. Parabolic trough systems use parabolic mirrors to concentrate solar radiation on linear receivers which moves with the parabolic mirror to track the sun from east to west. In a Fresnel system, the parabolic shape of the trough is split into several smaller, relatively flat mirror segments which are connected at different angles to a rod-bar that moves them simultaneously to track the sun. Central Receiver Systems consists of two-axis tracking mirrors, or heliostats, which reflect direct solar radiation onto a receiver located at the top of a tower.

Theoretically, all CSP systems can be used to generate electricity and heat.  All are suited to be combined with membrane and thermal desalination systems. However, the only commercially available CSP plants today are linear concentrating parabolic trough systems because of lower cost, simple construction, and high efficiency

CSP-Powered Desalination Prospects in MENA

A recent study by International Energy Agency found that the six biggest users of desalination in MENA––Algeria, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates––use approximately 10 percent of the primary energy for desalination. Infact, desalination accounted for more than 4 percent of the total electricity generated in the MENA region in 2010. With growing desalination demand, the major impact will be on those countries that currently use only a small proportion of their energy for desalination, such as Jordan and Algeria.

The MENA region has tremendous wind and solar energy potential which can be effectively utilized in desalination processes. Concentrating solar power (CSP) offers an attractive option to power industrial-scale desalination plants that require both high temperature fluids and electricity.  CSP can provide stable energy supply for continuous operation of desalination plants based on thermal or membrane processes. Infact, several countries in the region, such as Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco are already developing large CSP solar power projects.

Concentrating solar power offers an attractive option to run industrial-scale desalination plants that require both high temperature fluids and electricity.  Such plants can provide stable energy supply for continuous operation of desalination plants based on thermal or membrane processes. The MENA region has tremendous solar energy potential that can facilitate generation of energy required to offset the alarming freshwater deficit. The virtually unlimited solar irradiance in the region will ensure large-scale deployment of eco-friendly desalination systems, thereby saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  

Several countries in the MENA region – Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia – have joined together to expedite the deployment of concentrated solar power (CSP) and exploit the region's vast solar energy resources. One of those projects is a series of massive solar farms spanning the Middle East and North Africa. Two projects under this Desertec umbrella are Morocco’s Ouarzazate Concentrated Solar Power plant, which was approved in late 2011, and Tunisia’s TuNur Concentrated Solar Power Plant, which was approved in January 2012. The Moroccan plant will have a 500-MW capacity, while the Tunisia plant will have a 2 GW capacity. Jordan is also making rapid strides with several mega CSP projects under development in Maa’n Development Area. 


Seawater desalination powered by concentrated solar power offers an attractive opportunity for MENA countries to ensure affordable, sustainable and secure freshwater supply. The growing water deficit in the MENA region is fuelling regional conflicts, political instability and environmental degradation. It is expected that the energy demand for seawater desalination for urban centres and mega-cities will be met by ensuring mass deployment of CSP-powered systems across the region. Considering the severe consequence of looming water crisis in the MENA region it is responsibility of all regional governments to devise a forward-looking regional water policy to facilitate rapid deployment and expansion of CSP and other clean energy resources for seawater desalination.

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مستقبل تحلية المياة لمنطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا

تحلية المياه هي عملية معالجة للمياه يتم فيها فصل الأملاح من المياه المالحة لانتاج مياه صالحة للشرب. عملية التحلية تستهلك كمية كبيرة من الطاقة لانتاج الماء العذب من مصادر المياة المالحة. يتم ضخ الماء المالح في عملية التحلية وتكون المخرجات عبارة عن خط ماء عذب بالاضافة لخط أخر من المياة عالية الملوحه جداً.

يوجد أكثر من 15000 وحدة تنقية مياه على المستوى الصناعي في العالم، بطاقة اجمالية تزيد على 8.5 مليار جالون يومياً. يتفوق أسلوب الترشيح بالأغشية في هذا المجال حيث تبلغ نسبته حوالي 44% من اجمالي الطاقة الاجمالية، يليه التحلية بالتسخين MSF بنسبة حوالي 40 %. وبالنسبة للمصادر، تمثل مياة البحار حوالي 58 % والمياه الجوفية المالحة نسبة 23 % والباقي من مصادر أخرى كالانهار والبحيرات المالحة.

مشاكل المياة في منطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال افريقيا

الحصول على الماء العذب يعد من أكبر مجالات الاهتمامات الصحية اليوم. فمنطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال افريقيا من أكثر مناطق العالم جفافا. وتؤدي معدلات زيادة السكان العالية بالاضافة للتمدن والزيادة الصناعية مع ندرة المصادر الطبيعيه للماء العذب الي عجز حقيقي في الماء العذب في هذه المنطقة. مصادر المياه العذبه في منطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال افريقيا يساء استغلالها دائماً مما يؤدي حتما الي زيادة الطلب على المياه المحلاه للحفاظ على مستوى مقبول من امدادات المياه.

ان محطات التحلية التقليديه كبيرة الحجم عالية التكلفة وشديدة الاستهلاك للطاقة، وليست مناسبة للبلدان الفقيرة في منطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال افريقيا للزيادة في تكاليف الوقود الأحفوري. بالاضافة لذلك، التأثير البيئي لهذه المحطات يعد خطراً على مستوى الانبعاثات الناتجة من استهلاك الطاقة وصرف المحلول الملحي في البحر. المحلول الملحي الناتج له كثافة ملح عالية جدا ويحتوي ايضاً على بقايا لكيماويات ومعادن ناتجه من عملية التحلية مما يهدد الحياة البحرية.

التأثير السلبي لعمليات التحلية يمكن تقليله الي حد ما عن طريق استخدام الطاقة المتجددة لتغذية المحطات بالطاقة. فالمحطات المداره بالطاقة المتجددة تقدم طريقة مستدامة لزيادة توريد المياه العذبة لدول المنطقة، فدول المنطقة لديها امكانيات كبيرة في طاقة الرياح والطاقة الشمسية، والتي يمكن استخدامها بكفاءة في عمليات التحلية مثل التناضح العكسي، والفصل الكهربي وعمليات الفلتره. ان المحطات المداره بالطاقة المتجددة ستزداد جاذبيتها مع تقدم التكنلوجيات وزيادة اسعار الماء العذب والوقود الأحفوري.

محطات التحلية المدارة بالطاقة الشمسية

يمكن استخدام الطاقة الشمسية مباشرة او بشكل غير مباشر في عملية التحلية. أنظمة التجميع التي تستخدم الطاقة الشمسية للتجميع مباشرة في المجمعات الشمسيه تسمى نظم مباشرة، بينما العمليات التي تستخدم مزيج من الطاقة الشمسية مع الطاقة التقليدية  للتحلية تسمى نظم غير مباشرة. العقبة الرئيسية في استخدام الطاقة الحرارية الشمسية على نطاق محطات التحلية الكبيرة هي قلة معدل الانتاجية، وقلة الكفاءة الحرارية واحتياجها لمساحات واسعة. محطات التحلية المعتمدة على الطاقة الحرارية الشمسية تناسب الاحتياجات الصغيره خصوصا في المناطق البعيده والقاحلة والجزر التي تعاني فقرا في مصادر الطاقة التقليدية.

تقدم الطاقة الشمسية المركزة (CSP) خياراً جذاباً لتزويد مجال التحلية على المستوى الصناعي بالطاقة اللازمة والتي تحتاج الي سوائل عالية الحرارة وطاقة كهربائية. وتوفر الطاقة الشمسية المركزة طاقة مستقرة للاستخدام المستمر لعمليات محطات التحلية المعتمدة على التسخين او الأغشية في عمليتها. في الواقع، بدأت دول كثيرة في المنطقة كالأردن ومصر والمملكة العربية في تطوير مشاريع تحلية ضخمه معتمدة على الطاقة الشمسية المركزة تبشر بعهد جديد في منطقة الشرق الأوسط.

ان منطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال افريقيا لديها امكانيات ضخمة في مجال الطاقة الشمسية والتي تسهل عملية توليد الطاقة اللازمة لتعويض العجز الظاهر في الماء الصالح للشرب. قد تتعرض المنطقة لأزمة مياه شديدة مع عدد السكان الذي من المتوقع ان يتضاعف بحلول عام 2050. يمكن لمحطات التحلية التي تعمل بالطاقة الشمسية مع الاستعمال السليم لمخزون المياه واعادة استعمال مياه الصرف ان تساعد في التقليل من الأزمة المائية في المنطقة. وسوف تقلل ايضاً من الاعباء المادية على حكومات المنطقة من قطاع المياه والكهرباء، ومن ثم توجيه هذه المخصصات المالية في قطاعات أهم كالتعليم والصحة والقطاع الصناعي.

ترجمة: طه واكد – مهندس مدني مهتم بشؤون البيئة – مصر

شريك مؤسس في مشروع دقيقة خضراء  –  معد وكاتب حلقات دقيقة خضراء عاليوتيوب

للتواصل عبر   أو

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Solar Energy Prospects in Tunisia

Tunisia is an energy-dependent country with modest oil and gas reserves. Around 97 percent of the total energy is produced by natural gas and oil, while renewables contribute merely 3% of the energy mix. The installed electricity capacity at the end of 2015 was 5,695 MW which is expected to sharply increase to 7,500 MW by 2021 to meet the rising power demands of the industrial and domestic sectors. Needless to say, Tunisia is building additional conventional power plants and developing its solar and wind capacities to sustain economic development.

Wind Energy Outlook

Wind power represents the main source of renewable energy in Tunisia. Since 2008, wind energy is leading the energy transition of Tunisia with a growth of the production up to 245 MW of power installed in 2016. Two main wind farms have been developed until now: Sidi-Daoud and Bizerte. 

The first wind power project of Tunisia started in 2000, with the installation of the Sidi-Daoud’s wind farm in the gulf of Tunis. The station has been developed in three steps before reaching its current power capacity of 54 MW. The operation of two wind power facilities in Bizerte – Metline and Kchabta Station – was launched in 2012. The development of those stations has conducted to a significant increase of electricity generated by wind power, totalizing a production of 94 MW for Kchabta and 95MW in Metline in 2016


Solar Energy Potential

Tunisia has good renewable energy potential, especially solar and wind, which the government is trying to tap to ensure a safe energy future. The country has very good solar radiation potential which ranges from 1800 kWh/m² per year in the North to 2600kWh/m² per year in the South. The total installed capacity of grid-connected renewable power plant was around 342 MW in 2016 (245 MW of wind energy, 68 MW of hydropower and 15 MW of PV), which is hardly 6% of the total capacity. 

In 2009, the Tunisian government adopted “Plan Solaire Tunisien” or Tunisia Solar Plan to achieve 4.7 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030 which includes the use of solar photovoltaic systems, solar water heating systems and solar concentrated power units. The Tunisian solar plan is being implemented by STEG Énergies Renouvelables (STEG RE) which is a subsidiary of state-utility STEG and responsible for the development of alternative energy sector in the country. 

The total investment required to implement the Tunisian Solar Program plan have been estimated at $2.5 billion, including $175 million from the National Fund, $530 million from the public sector, $1,660 million from private sector funds, and $24 million from international cooperation, all of which will be spent over the period of 2012 – 2016. Around 40 percent of the resources will be devoted to the development of energy export infrastructure.

Tunisian Solar Program (PROSOL)

Tunisian Solar Programme, launched in 2005, is a joint initiative of UNEP, Tunisian National Agency for Energy Conservation, state-utility STEG and Italian Ministry for Environment, Land and Sea. The program aims to promote the development of the solar energy sector through financial and fiscal support. PROSOL includes a loan mechanism for domestic customers to purchase Solar Water Heaters and a capital cost subsidy provided by the Tunisian government of 20% of system costs. The major benefits of PROSOL are:

  • More than 50,000 Tunisian families get their hot water from the sun based on loans
  • Generation of employment opportunities in the form of technology suppliers and installation companies.
  • Reduced dependence on imported energy carriers
  • Reduction of GHGs emissions.

The Tunisian Solar Plan contains 40 projects aimed at promoting solar thermal and photovoltaic energies, wind energy, as well as energy efficiency measures. The plan also incorporates the ELMED project; a 400KV submarine cable interconnecting Tunisia and Italy.

In Tunisia, the totol solar PV total capacity at the end of 2014 was 15 MW which comprised of mostly small-scale private installations (residential as well as commercial) with capacity ranging from 1 kW and 30 kW. As of early 2015, there were only three operational PV installations with a capacity of at least 100 kW: a 149 kWp installation in Sfax, a 211 kWp installation operated by the Tunisian potable water supply company SONEDE and a 100 kWp installation in the region of Korba, both connected to the medium voltage, and realized by Tunisian installer companies. The first large scale solar power plant of a 10MW capacity, co-financed by KfW and NIF (Neighbourhood Investment Facility) and implemented by STEG, is due 2018 in Tozeur.

TuNur Concentrated Solar Power Project

TuNur CSP project is Tunisia's most ambitious renewable energy project yet. The project consists of a 2,250 MW solar CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) plant in Sahara desert and a 2 GW HVDC (High-Voltage Direct Current) submarine cable from Tunisia to Italy. TuNur plans to use Concentrated Solar Power to generate a potential 2.5GW of electricity on 100km2 of desert in South West Tunisia by 2018. At present the project is at the fund-raising stage.

Future Perspectives

The Tunisian government has recetly announced plans to invest US $1 billion towards renewable energy projects including the installation of 1,000 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy this year. According to the Energy General Direction of the Tunisian Ministry of Energy and Mines, 650 MW will come from solar photovoltaic, while the residual 350 MW will be supplied by wind energy.

At the same time, the private sector plans to invest an additional US $600 million into the development of renewable energy capacity in 2017. Under new plans, Tunisia has dedicated itself to generating 30 per cent of its electrical energy from renewable energy sources in 2030.

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Desertec: What Went Wrong?

A plan to power Europe from solar power plants in Sahara desert, popularly known as Desertec, seems to have stalled, but several large North African solar projects are still going ahead despite local concerns. Where did the Desertec project go wrong, and can desert solar power yet play a role in a democratic and sustainable future?

If you use social media, you may well have seen a graphic going around, showing a tiny square in the Sahara desert with the caption: ‘This much solar power in the Sahara would provide enough energy for the whole world!’

Can this really be true? It is based on data from a research thesis written by Nadine May in 2005 for the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany. According to May, an area of 3.49 million km² is potentially available for concentrating solar power (CSP) plants in the North African countries Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. She argues that an area of 254 kilometres x 254 kilometres (the biggest box on the image) would be enough to meet the total electricity demand of the world. The amount of electricity needed by the EU-25 states could be produced on an area of 110 kilometres x 110 kilometres (assuming solar collectors that could capture 100 per cent of the energy). A more realistic estimation by the Land Art Generator Initiative assumed a 20-per-cent capture rate and put forward an area approximately eight times bigger than the May study for meeting the world’s energy needs. Nevertheless, the map is a good illustration of the potential of solar power and how little space would be needed to power the entire planet.

This isn’t a new idea. Back in 1913, the American engineer Frank Shuman presented plans for the world’s first solar thermal power station to Egypt’s colonial elite, including the British consul-general Lord Kitchener. The power station would have pumped water from the Nile River to the adjacent fields where Egypt’s lucrative cotton crop was grown, but the outbreak of the First World War abruptly ended this dream.

The idea was explored again in the 1980s by German particle physicist Gerhard Knies, who was the first person to estimate how much solar energy was required to meet humanity’s demand for electricity. In 1986, in direct response to the Chernobyl nuclear accident, he arrived at the following remarkable conclusion: in just six hours, the world’s deserts receive more energy from the sun than humans consume in a year. These ideas laid the groundwork for Desertec.

What is Desertec?

For the sake of clarity, it is worth differentiating between the Desertec Foundation and the Desertec Industrial Initiative. The non-profit Desertec Foundation was founded in January 2009 by a network of scientists, politicians and economists from around the Mediterranean. Its aim is to supply as many people and businesses as possible with renewable energy from the world’s deserts. This should, they hope, provide opportunities for prosperity and help protect the climate.

In the autumn of 2009, an ‘international’ consortium of companies formed the Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii), with weighty players such as E.ON, Munich Re, Siemens and Deutsche Bank all signing up as ‘shareholders’. It was formed as a largely German-led private-sector initiative with the aim of translating the Desertec concept into a profitable business project, by providing around 20 per cent of Europe’s electricity by 2050 through a vast network of solar- and windfarms stretching right across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. These generators would be connected to continental Europe via special high voltage, direct current transmission cables. The tentative total cost of this project has been estimated at €400 billion ($472 billion).

To understand the thinking behind Desertec, we need to consider some history. Between 1998 and 2006, a set of Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements were formed between the EU and Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia. Their stated aim was the ‘gradual liberalization of trade’ in the region and the establishment of a Mediterranean free trade area. A project with similar goals called the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) was championed by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy from 2008, to strengthen the ‘interdependence’ between the EU and the southern Mediterranean.

This goal of ‘interdependence’ is reminiscent of previous French prime minister Edgar Fouré’s famous coinage back in 1956, ‘L’indépendance dans l’interdépendance’, (independence in interdependence), a strategy promoted by successive French governments to maintain control and domination of the new ‘independent’ African countries. The UfM is designed to follow in their footsteps, furthering EU economic interests and reducing the need for energy imports from Russia. Promoting a renewable energy partnership was seen as a priority core project towards achieving these goals.

It is within this context of pro-corporate trade deals and a scramble for influence and energy resources that we should understand the Desertec project and especially its industrial arm, the Dii. Desertec could play a role in diversifying energy sources away from Russia as well as contributing to EU targets of reducing carbon emissions – and what better region to achieve these aims than MENA, an area well-endowed with natural resources, from fossil fuels to sun and wind. It seems that a familiar ‘colonial’ scheme is being rolled in front of our eyes: the unrestricted flow of cheap natural resources from the Global South to the rich industrialized North, maintaining a profoundly unjust international division of labour.

This is a genuine concern given the language used in different articles and publications describing the potential of the Sahara in powering the whole world. The Sahara is described as a vast empty land, sparsely populated; constituting a golden opportunity to provide Europe with electricity so it can continue its extravagant consumerist lifestyle and profligate energy consumption. This is the same language used by colonial powers to justify their civilizing mission and, as an African myself, I cannot help but be very suspicious of such megaprojects and their ‘well-intentioned’ motives that are often sugar-coating brutal exploitation and sheer robbery. Such sentiments were also raised by Daniel Ayuk Mbi Egbe of the African Network for Solar Energy in 2011. ‘Many Africans are sceptical about Desertec,’ he said. ‘Europeans make promises, but at the end of the day, they bring their engineers, they bring their equipment, and they go. It’s a new form of resource exploitation, just like in the past.’ The Tunisian trade unionist Mansour Cherni made similar points at the World Social Forum 2013 (WSF) held in Tunis when he asked: ‘Where will the energy produced here be used?…Where will the water come from that will cool the solar power plants? And what do the locals get from it all?’

Sustainable Development or Status quo?

There is nothing inherently wrong or dishonest in the Desertec idea. On the contrary, the goal of providing sustainable energy for the planet to fight global warming is to be applauded. But like any other idea, the questions of who uses it, how it is implemented, for what agenda and in which context it is being promoted, are of great importance.

Desertec was presented as a response to the issues of climate change, the Russian-Ukrainian gas conflicts in 2006 and 2009, fears of peak oil, and the global food crisis of 2009. However, if Desertec is really serious about addressing those crises, it needs to target their structural causes. Being an apolitical techno-fix, it promises to overcome these problems without fundamental change, basically maintaining the status quo and the contradictions of the global system that led to these crises in the first place. Moreover, by presenting the Euro-Med region as a unified community (we are all friends now and we need to fight against a common enemy!), it masks the real enemy of the MENA region, which is oppressive European hegemony and Western domination.

Big engineering-focused ‘solutions’ like Desertec tend to present climate change as a shared problem with no political or socio-economic context. This perspective hides the historical responsibilities of the industrialized West, the problems of the capitalist energy model, and the different vulnerabilities between countries of the North and the South. The MENA region is one of the regions hardest hit by climate change, despite producing less than 5 per cent of global carbon emissions, with water supplies in the area being particularly affected. The spread of solar energy initiatives that further plunder these increasingly-scarce water resources would be a great injustice. Desertec also provides PR cover to major energy businesses and oil and gas-fuelled regimes. Supporting big ‘clean energy’ projects lets them present themselves as environmental protectors rather than climate culprits.

The website of the foundation (which came up with the concept and gave it its name) states: ‘Desertec has never been about delivering electricity from Africa to Europe, but to supply companies in desert regions with energy from the sun instead of oil and gas.’ Despite this, the Dii consortium of (mainly European) companies was openly geared towards delivering energy from Africa to Europe. Eventually, however, the fall in the price of solar panels and wind turbines in the EU led the consortium to concede in 2013 that Europe can provide for most of its clean energy needs indigenously. The tensions between the foundation and Dii culminated in a divorce between the two in July 2013 as the former preferred to distance itself from the management crisis and disorientation of the industrial consortium. As a result of these developments, Dii shrank from 17 partners to only three by the end of 2014 (German RWE, Saudi Acwa Power and China State Grid).

Where is Desertec now?

For some people, the shrinking of Dii signalled the demise of Desertec. However, with or without Dii, the Desertec vision is still going ahead with projects in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. Despite its stated ideals about powering Africa, the Desertec foundation is backing the Tunur project in Tunisia, a joint venture between Nur Energy, a British-based solar developer and a group of Maltese and Tunisian investors in the oil and gas sector. It explicitly describes itself as a large solar power export project linking the Sahara desert to Europe that will dispatch power to European consumers starting in 2018. Given that Tunisia depends on its neighbour Algeria for its energy needs and that it faces increasingly frequent power cuts, it would be outrageous (to say the least) to proceed with exports rather than producing for the local market. According to Med Dhia Hammami, a Tunisian investigative journalist working in the energy sector, the project seeks to take advantage of new Tunisian legislation allowing the liberalization of green energy production and distribution, breaking the monopoly of the state company STEG (Société Tunisienne d’Electricité et de Gaz) and opening the way to direct export of electricity by private companies. He describes it as ‘state prostitution’ and a confirmation of the Tunisian government’s submission to corporate diktats that go against the national interest.

Meanwhile, the Moroccan government, with help from Dii consortium members, has attracted funding from international lenders to develop the world’s largest concentrating solar power (CSP) plant at Ourzazate. It was originally envisioned as an export project, but failed to secure Spanish government support for an undersea cable; the project is now promoted as a means for Morocco to increase its own renewable energy supply. However, the role of transnational companies in the project is still attracting criticism. M Jawad, a campaigner from ATTAC/CADTM Morocco, is concerned about the increasing control exerted by transnationals on electrical energy production in his country. He sees projects like Ourzazate as a threat to national sovereignty in the clean energy sector, because crucial decisions that affect the whole population are being taken by a handful of technocrats, far from any democratic process or consultation.

A Community-centred Approach

The assumption that economic liberalization and ‘development’ necessarily lead to prosperity, stability and democracy – as if neoliberalism and the (under)development agenda of the West had nothing to do with the Arab Uprisings – is preposterous. Any project concerned with producing sustainable energy must be rooted in local communities, geared towards providing and catering for their needs and centred around energy and environmental justice.

This is even more important when we think about the issue in the context of the Arab Uprisings and the demands of the revolutions: bread, freedom, social justice and national sovereignty. Projects involving large transnationals tend to take a top-down approach, increasing the risk of displacement, land-grabbing and local pollution. Without community involvement, there is no guarantee that such schemes will help with alleviating poverty, reducing unemployment or preserving a safe environment.

This has been a major failing of the Desertec initiative. Only a few actors from the South of the Mediterranean were involved in its development, and most of them represented public institutions and central authorities, not the local communities who would be affected by the project.

The Desertec foundation did publish a set of criteria to ensure that large-scale solar projects in desert regions are implemented in an environmentally and socially responsible way. However, in the absence of democratic control, transparency and citizen participation in decision making in the MENA region, those criteria will remain ink on paper.

Another important question is: will these projects transfer the knowledge, expertise and designs of the renewable technology to the countries in this region? This seems unlikely given the transnationals’ usual reticence in doing so and questions of intellectual property around such technologies. As an example, the glass troughs (solar thermal collectors) for North African CSP plants are all made in Germany, and the patents for the glass tube receivers are held by German companies. Without fair access to such technologies, MENA countries will remain dependent on the West and transnationals for future renewable development.

Solar Energy, a new Tool for Authoritarian Regimes?

To come back to the Arab uprisings, Desertec presented itself as a possible way out of the crisis, by bringing new opportunities to the region. This is baffling given that the project co-operated with corrupt elites and authoritarian regimes, some of which have since been overthrown, and others of which continue to oppress their populations.

Instead of providing a route to ‘develop’ away from repressive governments, the centralized nature of large CSP plants makes them an ideal source of income for corrupt and authoritarian regimes in the region (such as Algeria, Egypt and Morocco) and thus could help to keep them in power. To illustrate this risk, let’s take Algeria as an example.

Oil and gas have provided income for the Algerian regime for decades, and are used to buy social peace and maintain its grip on power. As the brutal Algerian civil war (a war against civilians, to be more accurate) was raging, with systematic violence from both the state and Islamist fundamentalists, BP finalized a contract worth $3 billion in December 1995, giving it the right to exploit gas deposits in the Sahara for the next 30 years. Total completed a similar deal worth $1.5 billion one month later, and in November 1996 a new pipeline supplying gas to the EU was opened, the Maghreb-Europe Gas Pipeline through Spain and Portugal. These contracts undoubtedly bolstered the regime as it exerted systematic violence across the country and at a time of international isolation.

Tied to Algeria through huge investments, these companies and the EU had a clear interest in making sure that the repressive regime did not go under and acquiesced to the Algerian regime’s ‘Dirty War’ of the 1990s. A renewable megaproject like Desertec that ties European economies to corrupt MENA governments would create exactly the same kind of problems.

Parting Shot

Whether fossil fuelled or renewable, energy schemes that don’t benefit the people where the energy is extracted, that serve to prop up authoritarian and repressive regimes or only enrich a tiny minority of voracious elites and transnationals are scandalous and must be resisted.

Advocates for benign-sounding clean energy export projects like Desertec need to be careful they’re not supporting a new ‘renewable energy grab’: after oil, gas, gold, diamonds and cotton, is it now the turn of solar energy to maintain the global imperial dominance of the West over the rest of the planet?

Rather than embracing such gargantuan projects, we should instead support decentralized small-scale projects that can be democratically managed and controlled by local communities that promote energy autonomy. We don’t want to replicate the fossil fuel tragedy and therefore we must say: Leave the sunlight in the desert for its people!

Note: This article was originally published in March 2015 issue of New Internationalist and can be found at this link.

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Role of CSP in South Africa’s Power Sector

Demand for electricity in South Africa has increased progressively over several years and the grid now faces supply and demand challenges. As a result, the Department of Energy has implemented a new Integrated Resource Plan to enhance generation capacity and promote energy efficiency. Photovoltaics (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP) are set to be the main beneficiaries from the new plan having their initial allocation raised considerably.

Daily power demand in South Africa has a morning and evening peak, both in summer and winter. This characteristic makes CSP with storage a very attractive technology for generating electricity on a large scale compared to PV, which currently can provide electricity at a cheaper price, but its capability to match the demand is limited to the morning demand peak.

As experts highlight, CSP is the only renewable technology that provides dispatchable electricity that adapts to the demand curve, though at a higher price than PV. However, the government in South Africa has recognized the flexibility that it offers to the grid (matching the demand and stabilizing the system) over the levelised cost of energy (LCOE), and announced a bid window in March 2014 solely for CSP, where 200 MW are to be allocated.

CSP’s operational flexibility allows the plant to be run in a conventional mode at maximum power output, store the excess energy and use the full load once the sun starts setting. Another option is to adapt the production to the demand, reducing the load during the central hours of the day where PV can provide cheaper electricity, and shift that energy to generate at later hours without requiring a large storage system.

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Desalination – A Better Choice for MENA

Water scarcity is a major problem in many parts of the world affecting quality of life, the environment, industry, and the economies of developing nations. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is considered as one of the most water-scarce regions of the world. Large scale water management problems are already apparent in the region. While the MENA region’s population is growing steadily, per capita water availability is expected to fall by more than 40-50% by the year 2050. Also, climate change is likely to affect weather and precipitation patterns, and the consequences of which may force the MENA region to more frequent and severe droughts.

Growth in desalination has increased dramatically as countries seek solutions to water scarcity caused by population growth, climate change, pollution and industrial development. In addition, the industry has done much to lower the cost of desalination. Advances in technology have led to increased energy efficiency, and greater economies of scale have also helped lower costs. The majority of new commissioned capacity is seawater desalination. As of June 30, 2011, there were 15,988 desalination plants worldwide and the total global capacity of all plants online was 66.5 million cubic meters per day (m3/d), or approximately 17.6 billion US gallons per day.

Existing desalination plants work in one of two ways. Some distil seawater by heating it up to evaporate part of it. They then condense the vapour—a process that requires electricity. The other plants use reverse osmosis. This employs high-pressure pumps to force the water from brine through a membrane that is impermeable to salt. That, too, needs electricity. Even the best reverse-osmosis plants require 3.7 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy to produce 1,000 litres of drinking water.

Recent researches indicate that we can produce that much freshwater with less than 1 kWh of electricity, and no other paid-for source of power is needed. This process is fuelled by concentration gradients of salinity between different vessels of brine. These different salinities are brought about by evaporation. The process begins by spraying seawater into a shallow, black-bottomed pond, where it absorbs heat from the atmosphere. The resulting evaporation increases the concentration of salt in the water from its natural level of 3.5% to as much as 20%. Low-pressure pumps are then used to pipe this concentrated seawater, along with three other streams of untreated seawater, into the desalting unit.

Perspectives for MENA

Seawater desalination powered by renewable power offers an attractive opportunity for MENA countries to ensure affordable, sustainable and secure freshwater supply. The MENA region has tremendous wind and solar energy potential which can be effectively utilized in desalination processes. Concentrating solar power (CSP) offers an attractive option to power industrial-scale desalination plants that require both high temperature fluids and electricity.

The renewable energy potential is now starting to be more seriously considered in the MENA region, driven by rapidly increasing energy usage, high insolation rates, a young and empowered workforce, and an increasing awareness of the costs of burning natural resources. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco, have ambitious solar power generation goals as well as evolving policies and regulatory frameworks to support these goals. Demonstration projects are being deployed in some countries, while large scale projects are being deployed in others.


Water demand and supply have become an international issue due to several factors: global warming (droughts are more often in arid areas), low annual rainfall, a rise in population rates during last decades, high living standards, and the expansion of industrial and agricultural activities. Freshwater from rivers and groundwater sources are becoming limited and vast reserves of fresh water are located in deep places where economical and geological issues are the main obstacles.

Therefore, it has turned into a competition to get this vital liquid and to find more feasible and economical sources that can ameliorate the great demand that the world is living nowadays and avoid water restrictions and service interruptions to domestic water supply. And, desalination powered by renewable energy resources seems to be an excellent alternative for getting fresh water and electricity in MENA countries.

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Solar Energy in Jordan

The solar energy potential in Jordan is enormous as it lies within the solar belt of the world with average solar radiation ranging between 5 and 7 KWh/m2, which implies a potential of at least 1000GWh per year annually. Solar energy, like other forms of renewable energy, remains underutilized in Jordan. Decentralized photovoltaic units in rural and remote villages are currently used for lighting, water pumping and other social services (1000KW of peak capacity). In addition, about 15% of all households are equipped with solar water heating systems.

Jordan has major plans for increasing the use of solar energy. As per the Energy Master Plan, 30 percent of all households are expected to be equipped with solar water heating system by the year 2020. The Government is hoping to construct the first Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) demonstration project in the short to medium term and is considering Aqaba and the south-eastern region for this purpose. It is also planning to have solar desalination plant. According to the national strategy the planned installed capacity will amount to 300MW – 600MW (CSP, PV and hybrid power plants) by 2020.

One of the most promising potential investments in renewable energy worldwide will be installing more than 250 MW of concentrated solar power (CSP) in Jordan’s Ma’an development zone through different projects developed by the private sector. The upcoming CSP solar power plants in Ma'an would highlight Jordan's strategy of sustainable energy diversification. The Ma'an Development Area enjoys about 320 days of sunshine a year, with a high level of irradiance that allows over 2500 million kWh of primary energy to be harvested annually from each square kilometre.  At full capacity, the planned flagship CSP plant could meet some 4% of the Kingdom's electricity needs, reducing the reliance on electricity imports from neighbouring countries. Surplus energy could in turn be sold to Syria, Egypt and Palestine, whose networks are connected to Jordan.

Qawar Energy in partnership with Maan Development Area (MDA) has recently announced the launch of its $400 million Shams Ma’an Project, a 100MW photovoltaic (PV) power plant project to come up at the MDA industrial park in Jordan. The project, being undertaken in partnership with MDA, is spread across a two million m2 area, and expected to be ready in 2012. On completion, it will be the largest PV plant in the world that will position Jordan on the global renewable energy map attracting investments, technologies and knowhow. It aims to utilize approximately 360,000 to 2 million PV/CPV panels and produce around 168 GWh per year

California-based company Ausra has been chosen to supply solar steam boilers to the 100MW JOAN1 concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) project in development in Ma’an. The JOAN1 project is expected to enter operation in 2013 and will be the largest CSP project in the world using direct solar steam generation. JOAN1 will be based on Ausra’s reflector technology to power the plant’s solar steam cycle and generate up to 100 MW of electricity. JOAN1 will use dry cooling to conserve water. Ausra plans to install an advanced manufacturing facility in Jordan in order to supply JOAN1 with its solar steam boilers.


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Renewable Energy in Morocco

Morocco, being one of largest energy importer in MENA, is making concerted efforts to reduce its reliance on imported fossil fuels. Renewable energy is an attractive proposition as Morocco has almost complete dependence on imported energy carriers. In 2012, Morocco spent around US$10 billion on all energy imports (crude oil and oil products, coal, natural gas and electricity). Annual electricity consumption in Morocco was 33.5 TWh in 2014, and is steadily increasing at a rate of around 7 percent each year. 

The major sources of alternative energy in Morocco are solar and wind. Wind energy potential is excellent in vast parts in the northern and southern regions, with the annual average wind speed exceeding 9 m/s at 40 meters elevation. As far as solar is concerned, the country experiences 3000 hours per year of annual sunshine equivalent to 5.3 kWh/m²/day. In Morocco, the total installed renewable energy capacity (excluding hydropower) was approximately 787MW at the end of year 2015. The Moroccan Government has set up an ambitious target of meeting 42% of its energy requirements using renewable resources (2GW solar and 2GW wind) by 2020. Morocco is investing more than USD13 billion in developing its renewable energy sector, which will reduce its dependence on imported energy carriers to a great extent. 

Morocco Solar Program

Morocco has launched one of the world’s largest and most ambitious solar energy plan with investment of USD 9billion. The Moroccan Solar Plan is regarded as a milestone on the country’s path towards a secure and sustainable energy supply which is clean, green and affordable. The aim of the plan is to generate 2,000 megawatts (or 2 gigawatts) of solar power by the year 2020 by building mega-scale solar power projects at five location — Laayoune (Sahara), Boujdour (Western Sahara), Tarfaya (south of Agadir), Ain Beni Mathar (center) and Ouarzazate — with modern solar thermal, photovoltaic and concentrated solar power mechanisms. Morocco, the only African country to have a power cable link to Europe, is also a key player in Mediterranean Solar Plan and Desertec Industrial Initiative. 

Construction is underway at the 500MW Solar Power Complex at Ouarzazate, the world’s largest solar power plant. To be built with investment of an estimated Euros 2.3 billion, the project is the first one to be implemented under the Moroccan Solar Plan. The Ouarzazate Solar Complex, also known as Noor CSP with a total capacity of 580 MW will produce an estimated output of 1.2 TWh/year to meet power demand of more than 1 million population when it is completed in 2018. The first phase of Ouarzazate solar project, known as Noor 1 CSP, is a 160-MW concentrated solar power (CSP) plant which will be switched on in Febrary 2016. Around $3.9bn has been invested in the Ouarzazate solar complex, including $1bn from the German investment bank KfW, $596m from the European Investment Bank and $400m from the World Bank.

The Ain Beni Mather Integrated Solar Thermal Combined Cycle Power Station, commissioned in 2011, is one of the most promising solar power projects in Africa.  The plant combines solar power and thermal power, and has the production capacity of 472 MWe. The total cost of the project was US$544 million including US$43.2 million in grant financing from the GEF, two loans from the African Development Bank (AfDB) for a total of US$371.8 million and a loan of US$ 129 million from Spain’s Instituto de Credito Official (ICO).

In 2010, the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), a public-private venture, was set up specifically to implement these projects.  Its mandate is to implement the overall project and to coordinate and to supervise other activities related to this initiative. Stakeholders of the Agency include the Hassan II Fund For Economic & Social Development, Energetic Investment Company and the Office National de l’Electricité (ONE). The Solar Plan is backed by Germany, with funding being provided by German Environment Ministry (BMU) and KfW Entwicklungsbank while GIZ is engaged in skills and capacity-building for industry.

Morocco Wind Program

Morocco has huge wind energy potential due to it 3,500 km coast line and average wind speeds between 6 and 11 m/s. Regions near the Atlantic coast, such as Essaouira, Tangier and Tetouan (with average annual average wind speeds between 9.5 and 11 m/s at 40 metres) and Tarfaya, Laayoune, Dakhla, and Taza (with annual average wind speed between 7.5 and 9.5 m/s at 40 metres) has excellent wind power potential. According to a study by CDER and GTZ, the total potential for wind power in Morocco is estimated at around 7,936 TWh per year, which would be equivalent to about 2,600 GW. Morocco’s total installed wind power capacity at the end of 2015 was an impressive 787MW.


The first wind farm in Morocco was installed in 2000 with a capacity of 50.4 MW in El Koudia El Baida (Tlat Taghramt – Province of Tetouan), situated 17km from the town of Fnidek. The annual production of the project is around 200 GWh, accounting for 1% of the national annual electricity consumption. In 2007, 60MW Amogdoul wind farm, on Cap Sim south of Essaouira, came online. This wind farm  was realized by the national utility ONE and  is producing around 210 GWh/year. Another landmark project is 140 MW at Allak, El Haoud and Beni Mejmel, near Tangier and Tetouan which was commissioned in 2010 with annual production of 526 GWh per annum.

Morocco has a strong pipeline of wind power projects to realize its  objective of 2GW of wind power by 2020. Africa’s largest windfarm, at Tarfaya in Southwestern Morocco, having installed capacity of 300MW become operational in 2014. The Tarfaya windfarm, built at a cost of around $700 million has 131 turbines will meet the power requirements of several hundred thousands people and will reduce 900,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.

EnergiPro Initiative

Morocco’s national utility ONE is developing almost half of the planned projects while the other half is contributed by private investment through the “EnergiPro” initiative, which encourages industrial players to reduce their production costs by producing their own energy with projects up to 50 MW. As part of this initiative, ONE guarantees access to the national grid, and the purchase of any excess electricity produced at an incentive tariff, with different tariffs for each project.

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Masdar’s Partnership with GDF Suez for Morocco CSP Project

Masdar and GDF Suez are working in a consortium as one of the pre-qualified bidders for the 200MW Noor II and 100MW Noor III CSP projects in Morocco. The winning bidders are expected to be announced in September this year and in a recent interview with CSP Today, Yago Mancebo, Investment Manager at Masdar, spoke about Masdar’s first experience in the bidding process for a CSP project and their reasons for partnering with GDF Suez.

Masdar has a strong portfolio of CSP projects behind them (Gemasolar and Shams 1), whilst their partner GDF Suez are one of the biggest independent power producers in the world with a vast experience of bidding for utility scale power projects. In the interview, Mancebo highlights this complementing balance of experience as the main reason for choosing to partner with GDF Suez in Morocco.

Mancebo outlined their challenges and successes in finding the right partners for CSP projects. Mancebo said that the main challenge with forming a good partnership in CSP is simply that there are relatively few players in the industry. He went on to say that GDF starting to get into the CSP industry is a positive thing ‘because we now have at least one more company interested in this technology’.

Mancebo also spoke about the reasons behind why Masdar did not partner with some of the developers they have worked with in the past, such as SENER and ACWA Power, stating that the main reason is that ACWA Power has their own strategy for Morocco and other markets. Mancebo said that Masdar would ‘prefer to be the leading partner in every sense’ and ‘want to be an active investor’ in the CSP projects they are involved with in the future. He went on to say that this is reason the partnership with GDF Suez works well, as ‘the consortium’s decision-making process is like a joint venture – 50-50’.

To read the full interview, including an insight into Masdar’s future plans for CSP in the MENA region, download it here:

For more information about this interview or to learn more about the MENASOL event, please contact Sarah Kingham at

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