North Africa and the Arab peninsula are among the best insolated regions on earth. There are very few other areas with comparable duration and intensity of sunshine. If anywhere, it is in the huge Arab desert areas that solar electricity could be generated at competitive terms, provided it will be possible to cope with the dust problem.
So far Arab countries have failed to exploit this golden resource, preferring to live on their huge oil and gas wealth.
This situation is slowly starting to change, not because of fears about climate change but because of the need to find long-term alternatives for depleting oil and gas resources. Several countries therefore aim at developing solar power capacities for replacing oil and gas in domestic electricity generation, reserving oil and gas for exports and as feed stuff for their rapidly expanding petrochemical industries.
However, only a few Arab countries have ambitious plans for investing in solar or wind energy. Algeria, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the most advanced in terms of volume of planned investments and policy formulation.
- Algeria aims at covering one third of its energy demand from renewable sources by 2030 and investing $ 100 billion to that end.
- Saudi Arabia wants to generate 54 GW electricity from solar and wind by 2032 to free scarcer oil for exports.
- The UAE are in the process of preparing a comprehensive regulatory framework including a feed-in tariff incentive scheme. The Emirates Solar Industry Association supports the government in pushing ahead the use of solar power.
But these three countries counter-act their drive for solar power by subsidies on fossil energy, which exceed 50 per cent of the full cost of supply.
As a group the 22 Arab League member countries are among the worst climate polluters on earth. In terms of per capita C02 emissions they easily beat Western champions like USA, Canada or Australia.
As long as most Arab countries keep subsidising fossil fuel and refuse to impose even minimal excise taxes, solar power will not be competitive and no more than a fig leaf.
From a global climate perspective, they should focus on reducing their excessive fossil fuel consumption rather than promoting solar or wind energy. Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies must be the first priority. This should be the key message for the EU-Arab policy dialogue and economic cooperation.
Author : Eberhard Rhein