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UAE, KSA evolving into solar powerhouses

GCC countries have sanctioned solar power projects worth $155bn

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Growth of the GCC photo-voltaic market is 'phenomenal'
Growth of the GCC photo-voltaic market is 'phenomenal'

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have emerged as the biggest markets among GCC states for the deployment of solar power, accounting for most of the projects. The six GCC countries altogether have sanctioned solar power installation projects worth approximately US $155bn, which will generate more than 84 GW of power when complete in 2017.

The Gulf countries will be addressing some of the main challenges related to the deployment of energy projects in desert terrain, at a high-level industry summit, called Gulf Sol 2013, taking place at the Dubai International Exhibition Centre from September 3 to 5. The event will feature government and private sector companies discussing ways of effective deployment of solar projects while also showcasing some of the latest international technologies.

At a press conference in Dubai, Derek Burston, director of the UK-based Bowmedia, organisers of Gulf Sol 2013, summarised the growth of the GCC photo-voltaic market as 'phenomenal'. "Over the years, solar power has been acknowledged as the most promising source of renewable energy and GCC governments have demonstrated their keenness to shift from traditional energy sources to these low-cost and abundant alternatives," he said.

"Direct radiation in many Middle Eastern countries exceeds 6 kWh per square metre per day, making for excellent solar potential. In addition, recent decreases in the costs of solar technologies coupled with rising electricity demand in these growing nations, if coupled with the right policies, could make the region a hub for solar expansion," Burston added.

The Emirates Solar Industries Association (ESIA) estimates that the key MENA markets to adopt solar power will be Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE, Kuwait as well as Morocco. All of these countries have potent economic reasons for adopting solar technologies, and none of these nations have been directly affected by recent unrest.

Speaking at the press conference, Marc Norman, director of Emirates Solar Industries Association, said: "The economics of switching to solar energy in the Middle East is ever more compelling. With oil prices increasing, and solar technology costs plummeting, it is time for governments in the Middle East to turn talk into action."

Gulf Sol 2013 assumes added significance given that Abu Dhabi has set a goal of generating 7 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and the state-owned renewable energy company, Masdar, has announced that it will invest up to US $1.63bn in alternative energy schemes alongside the UK's Green Investment Bank (GIB). Masdar is currently evaluating solar thermal technology at its Masdar City project and has installed a field of TVP solar thermal panels as a pilot project.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, hopes to double its installed electricity capacity by building 54GW of renewable energy (as well as 17.6 GW of nuclear power) by 2032, of which 41 GW will obtained from the sun. Riyadh in Saudi Arabia currently boasts the world's largest solar thermal plant at 36,300 square meters, with commissioning announced in April 2012. The plant provides hot water for an estimated 40,000 students at Princess Noura Bint Abdulrahman University for Women.

Another major project in the region is Dubai's Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, which aims for 1GW of PV and CSP generation by 2030. The US $3.2bn, 48sqkm park is the personal project of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

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