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Are YOU doing enough for the Middle East?

Peter Dalgety looks at how the region is progressing with renewables

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Peter Dalgety, Emerson.
Peter Dalgety, Emerson.

The Middle East is blessed with oil and gas reserves that other world regions can only dream of, and because of this it is not often seen as a place for renewable energy. But many Middle Eastern countries are proving this perception wrong, with initiatives on renewable energy being launched around the region one right after another.

Governments are preparing their economies for the challenges in the post-easy oil era, aiming to retain their positions as world energy leaders in the years to come. At the same time, they are also making commitments to reduce their countries’ carbon footprint, which in turn push them to become big investors in world-scale renewable energy projects.

Renewable energy, especially solar, is making slow inroads into other markets. Saudi Arabia on the other hand is planning to invest heavily in solar power, hoping to provide up to 30% of its energy needs from the sun in just 20 years. Today, Saudi burns 850 million barrels of oil a year. That represents almost a third of its total production. This is one of the many factors driving energy diversification.

Industry analysts say Saudi Arabia will have a huge return on investment by selling oil traditionally used for power generation on the open market. In other words, one of our major sources of exporting oil thinks that spending more than $67 billion in the next decade to cut its own oil consumption is a good deal as it will stimulate the economy to grow by not wasting money on burning oil that is expensive for power generation.

If you’re looking for key projects, you will not find it difficult to see one in this magazine. Solar power revolution is sweeping the region. We have Abu Dhabi’s carbon-neutral Masdar City, Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh solar heating plan, and Dubai’s upcoming 1GW solar park. Wind power is also getting strong, with Egypt and Morocco having built multiple wind farms, and with Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE working to develop their respective wind energy sectors.

If these great things continue, it is not impossible that in the near future, the Middle East will be exporting renewable energy to other parts of the world. More importantly, it will gain the reputation of having the expertise to help other countries develop a sustainable energy future.

Realistically, there are critical factors to sustain this winning streak. At the national level, we need more efforts to develop local talents to address the shortage of skilled specialists such as scientists and engineers. Moreover, we need to further support institutions that train these talents.

There is a tremendous population growth across the Middle East, which means that there will be no shortage of people who can join the renewable energy industry. The challenge here is to make this industry an attractive career path, and to avoid complete reliance on the skills of foreign specialists and experts.

In the industry level, collaboration among energy companies, technology providers, contractors, and government organisations should continue to foster. This will expedite the development of design, construction, and logistics of renewable energy projects, and of industry standards on security and safety.

Individually, all of us in the energy sector have the opportunity to shape the future of the renewable energy. Each of us can pick a battle —from advocating better energy policies to participating in talks on energy economics and financing and to diving onto specific plant engineering and technology pools. We have the position and the privilege to do more.

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