Uncertain future for wind in MENA says GWEC CEO

North Africa could represent biggest growth in wind between 2010-2014

Steve Sawyer, CEO, Global Wind Energy Council believes wind technology becomes attractive in the region once it becomes reliable & efficient. (GETTY)
Steve Sawyer, CEO, Global Wind Energy Council believes wind technology becomes attractive in the region once it becomes reliable & efficient. (GETTY)

Steve Sawyer, CEO of the Global Wind Energy Council gives his thoughts on the direction wind energy development could be going in the region in this question and answer interview during the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.

GWEC recently forecast that global wind power will double between 2010 and 2014, how much of this growth do you envisage will come out of the MENA region?

There have been encouraging first signs for wind power development in the MENA region in the past few years, especially in North Africa, in countries such as Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia, and also in Iran. Together, 230 MW were installed in these four countries during 2009, taking the total for the MENA region up to 828 MW at the end of last year. For our forecast, however, the outlook for this region is more uncertain than for others, and we expect that in the medium-term, the MENA wind market will continue to play a relatively small role in the context of global wind power development. We expect that between 2010 and 2014, a total of 4.2 GW of new wind power will be installed in the whole of Africa and the Middle East, the majority of which in North Africa, where favourable national policies are set to grow the sector further.

What are the key drivers behind global growth in demand for wind power?

Wind power is perfectly suited to address the most urgent energy and environmental challenges of our time. Climate change is of course a key driver for wind power development, as countries strive to curb the carbon dioxide emitted by their power sector. However, security of energy supply has been just as strong a driver in many regions around the world, both in countries with limited fossil fuel resources, and those who understand the benefit of saving valuable fuel by utilising their indigenous and abundant wind power resource. Wind power development has also been driven by fast rising electricity demand in growing economies, as wind farms are very quick to install and can start operating as soon as the first turbine is connected to the grid. Reducing air pollution from the power sector is also a key driver, as the choking smog and acid rain from coal-fired power generation damages human health, reduces crop yields and damages roads, buildings and other infrastructure. And last but not least, wind power can contribute to regional economic development by attracting large sums of investment, creating local jobs, and widening the tax base.

What do you think are the key technological developments – either existing or future – that will have the greatest impact on the success of the wind industry in the MENA region throughout the next 10 years?

As the technology continues to improve in both efficiency and reliability, they become a more attractive option for power companies planning their future energy generation mix. With increasing concern in the region about diversifying energy supply and planning for the ‘post-oil’ era, these technological improvements will continue to increase the attractiveness of wind power throughout the MENA region.

With wind turbines becoming an increasingly important technology, how effectively do the turbines function in various climates—does the heat or humidity of a climate have an impact?

It is true that meteorological variables must increasingly be taken into account when designing a turbine or choosing a turbine for a specific location. Modern wind turbines are designed to operate in very varied climates, from freezing temperatures in Canada to hot and sandy regions in the desert in Egypt, from withstanding tornados in Japan to weathering sand storms in China, as well as the sweltering heat and high humidity in southern India. Many lessons have been learned from decades of operating wind farms in extreme climates around the world, as well as in stormy and wet weather in offshore locations, such as Denmark or the United Kingdom. Wind turbines have been adapted to operate effectively in virtually all types of environments, but there are continual refinements as each wind farm is located in a unique location, both geographically and meteorologically, and small adaptations to suit the specifics of individual wind farm locations can substantially increase both efficiency and reliability.

Are residential wind turbines an available, feasible option?

Residential turbines are now widely available, as people are attracted to the idea of producing their own electricity while at the same time reducing their carbon footprint and their electricity bills. A large variety of systems is now available, varying in size, cost and power output. For windy (and ideally rural) locations, installing small residential wind systems can indeed make a lot of sense. For example, a small to medium sized turbine with a height of 50 meters can supply enough electricity for 60 average European homes, or a small factory or farm.


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