The future of solar energy in the Arab world

Randa Takieddine
Randa Takieddine
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The first solar power plant in the Arab world "Shams 1" was launched in Abu Dhabi by the Emirati company "Masdr." Launching the plant was an occasion to look into the future of this renewable energy to produce electricity in the Arab world. It is undoubted that Middle Eastern countries enjoy a lot of sun and vast spaces to carry out such projects. Currently most of the electricity is produced through oil or gas in the Arab world. This is very expansive for all countries. Therefore replacing part of this oil or gas used to produce electricity with solar plants has economic benefits since the price of the techniques used to develop solar energy is not as expansive.

The cost of the project "Shams 1" to produce 100 megawatts of electricity, which provides around 20,000 houses with power, was 600 million dollars. This is a very high level because of the technique resorted to as lines of reflective mirrors are used to concentrate sunlight and water is heated to use its vapor to produce electricity.

The price of another technique to use solar energy has recently decreased. The technique uses photovoltaic cells and sand. This energy to produce electricity is less costly. It is also a clean energy. This technique is being developed and modernized quickly and continuously. Saudi, the top oil producer in the world, is currently working to launch a huge solar energy project that aims to replace its consumption of local oil to produce electricity. The kingdom consumes around 800,000 barrels of its own oil to produce local electricity and fuel. Developing solar energy enables oil countries to save oil and export it for 100 dollars per barrel.

Launching solar power plants' projects also creates jobs opportunities and economic activity.

Solar energy, which is a clean energy, has a promising future in any country in the Arab world, not only in rich ones like Saudi, Qatar and the U.A.E. but also in Maghreb countries, from Algeria to Morocco, which began developing a project for solar energy. It also has a promising future in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon...etc.

According to experts, developing solar energy on the basis of panels or mirrors lasts for long as it lasts between 30 to 40 years. There are researches underway to store solar energy at night when there is no sun. Now, the station "Shams 1" uses some gas to produce electricity at night. But researchers and world oil companies, including the French one Total, contribute to working on decreasing the cost of storing the electricity produced during the day from the sun. The current cost is very high.

According to the company, these researches may within five to seven years decrease the price of storing this electricity by half. This will allow building a solar station and another station that stores electricity produced during the day to be used at night, and each person who uses solar energy at home will have a small station that stores electricity to be used at night.

Total solar energy experts say this can be achieved before 2020. There are also several American labs working on developing this storage means. The process of developing is moving in a fast pace. Therefore many countries in the Middle East have to look into developing this clean energy and have to follow up on this quick progress.

When looking at Lebanon, it seems that it needs years to find it gas or oil. Even that is uncertain because global oil companies' experts voiced surprise over the British company Specturm's statement announcing there are promising amounts of gas or oil in Lebanon's maritime areas following seismic works.

Experts said that such information cannot be announced since no wells have been dug yet. Digging wells is the only means to know what lies beneath. It was also said that Specturm's announcement was considered a scandal by experts. Therefore, Lebanon better start looking into producing solar energy like Jordan and Morocco.

*This article was published on al-Hayat newspaper on March 27, 2013.


Randa Takieddine is a Lebanese writer and the director of Al-Hayat newspaper office in Paris

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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