Energy diversification: Kuwait starts its first solar power plant

The 30-million Kuwaiti dinar ($99 million) project, Sidrah 500, will produce 10 megawatts (MW) of electricity

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Kuwait began operating its first-ever solar power plant on Wednesday at the Umm Gudair oil field, a landmark for the OPEC member country as it seeks to diversify its sources of energy to meet fast-rising local demand.

The 30-million Kuwaiti dinar ($99 million) project, Sidrah 500, will produce 10 megawatts (MW) of electricity, half of which will be supplied to the public electricity network.

The other half will be used to supply the oil field itself, which is owned by Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), a subsidiary of state-run Kuwait Petroleum Corporation. Kuwait announced plans last year to generate 15 percent of its energy needs via renewable sources by 2030.

Consumption of electricity is rising rapidly in Kuwait, as throughout the rest of the Gulf region. The country’s electricity and water minister estimated last year that demand would reach 30,000 MW per day by 2030.

In a speech at the project launch, KOC chief executive Jamal Ja’afar told reporters that Sidrah 500 represented the country's first step toward that goal. “We hope that by 2020 we can make 20 percent of the electricity which will be needed to run KOC from alternative energy,” he said.

The opening of the plant follows increased interest in renewables in Kuwait and across the Gulf region in recent years, as the scale of the consumption challenge has become clear. The Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research signed a contract last year with Spain’s TSK to establish the country’s first solar thermal energy plant, with a planned production capacity of 50 MW.

The institute’s Shaqaya initiative is also planning solar and wind projects in the northwest of the country. Abu Dhabi-based green energy firm Masdar has invested more than $1.7 billion in renewable energy projects since it was established a decade ago.

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