Rhein on Energy and Climate

Against the backdrop of rapidly deteriorating climate conditions on our planet – warming of the Arctic Sea, progressive destruction of coral reefs, increasingly violent floods and droughts – it is good to occasionally pause on some optimistic developments.

The decisions taken in the last few years by the governments of Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirate to go for solar, wind and even nuclear energy constitute positive developments in view of the Cancun Climate Conference in early December.

Morocco pursues ambitious targets. It aims at covering 38 percent of its power demand in 2020 by renewable sources. That is more ambitious than the EU target! To that end, it will put its bets thermal solar power, building five big concentrated solar power plants in different locations. The necessary investment of some $ 9 billion will be financed by a combination of private and public sources, including foreign investors.

Tunisia is equally determined to reduce the use of fossil energy and replace it by wind and solar energies. Until 2016, it wants to cut its consumption of fossil energy by 22 percent and replace it by wind turbines and solar power plants.

The Tunisian Solar Plan envisages investments of € 2 billion, in particular the construction of three major solar power plants. In a long-term perspective, Tunisia puts much hope in the DESERTEC Industrial Initiative and the Mediterranean Solar Plan. Thanks to its location and the availability of qualified technicians and engineers Tunisia has an excellent chance of benefiting from future solar developments in the Mediterranean.

Like Morocco and Tunisia, Egypt possesses a huge potential for wind power generation along the Red Sea and solar power in its vast desert stretches. Until very recently neither has been tapped. Being essentially interested in supplying subsidised low-cost energy to its citizens Egypt had given priority to the development of its domestic gas/oil reserves, which will be depleted within the coming 20 years.

But in view of fast rising energy consumption Egypt had start developing its renewable resources. By 2020 the government wants 20 percent of the electricity needs to be covered from renewables, twice the present share. To that end, wind capacity is to be expanded to 7 GW, compared with about 1 GW in 2010. Solar concentrated power is the second, more long-term leg of Egypt’s renewable energy strategy, with the prospect of 0.2 GW installed by 2020. For a slowly moving country like Egypt these are almost revolutionary developments.

Jordan is in the process of finalising legislation for encouraging energy efficiency and renewable energies. It will focus on solar and wind energy. Two solar projects with 200 MW capacity and two wind projects with 130 MW capacity are presently in the pipeline.

Last not least, tiny Abu Dhabi represents a shining example of what the Arab world would be able to achieve w appropriate vision and political will. Its ground-breaking “Masdar project”, which is to become the first-ever emission-free city before the end of the decade, will be exemplary for the world. It has helped Abu Dhabi to attract a lot of attention. IRENA, the international agency for the promotion of renewable energy is established there.

Abu Dhabi pursues a dual-track strategy for reducing its C02 emissions: nuclear and solar. It will be the first Arab country to build a nuclear reactor. In parallel, it envisages to invest in solar thermal power plants.

The above five countries, except Abu Dhabi, share one crucial characteristic: the absence of oil and gas resources. In terms of energy security they are no better off than Europe. That explains their interest in developing alternatives, even if these are presently much more expensive than oil or gas.

Their thrust towards solar and wind energy will no doubt be carefully monitored by Mauritania and Syria, whose oil reserves will dwindle rapidly.

But even the huge oil producers like Saudi-Arabia, Iraq or Kuwait cannot afford to ignore what is going on around them. Their oil and gas reserves will one day come to an end: they must therefore think of alternatives.

Saudi-Arabia has installed two tiny solar power plants. The King Abdullah University for Science and Technology in Jiddah will create a centre for Solar and Alternative Energies. The Saudi oil minister Al-Naimi dreams of exporting solar power one day, which is also the basic concept of the DESERTEC Industrial Initiative.

For Saudi Arabia, it would make sense diversifying into solar power generation to cover its rapidly rising domestic electricity demand. This would allow ARAMCO to export essentially all its oil/gas production.

Considering that Saudi-Arabia is one of the biggest climate-sinners – with per capita emissions of 20 tons! – the EU should try to persuade the government to be much more ambitious and invest much bigger amounts, say € 1 billion annually, in solar energy. It would make headlines if the government were to make an announcement to that effect at Cancun.

Brussels 23.09 10 Eberhard Rhein

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