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The Future of Renewables - an interview with EcoMENA's Salman Zafar

The Future of Renewables - an interview with EcoMENA's Salman Zafar

2016-11-27 
| by Editor | Posted in Interviews

 

Eco MENA logo

Last week ETI Online met with Salman Zafar, founder of EcoMENA, an organisation dedicated to advocating for the sustainable development of the MENA region, to discuss the current state of the renewables market and what the future holds.

Could you provide a brief history and overview of the activities of EcoMENA in the Middle East & Africa?

EcoMENA came into existence in early 2012 with the primary aim to raise environmental awareness and promote sustainable development in the MENA region. Our core activities are content creation, knowledge dissemination, targeted research, youth engagement and social media campaigns.

EcoMENA has made remarkable progress and has a huge knowledge bank catering to all aspects of sustainability sector, including renewable energy, resource conservation, waste management, environment protection and water management. Our articles, reports and analyses are well-researched, well-written and of high professional standards. In addition to awareness-raising, we also provide consulting, advisory, training and mentorship. Our team is made up of more than 100 experts, volunteers and translators from all over the Arab world and beyond, all of whom are associated with EcoMENA in purely voluntary capacity.

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the region is anticipating renewable energy investment of $35 billion per year by 2020.

What can you tell us about the current state of the renewables market in the MENA region?

MENA countries have tremendous potential for renewable energy due to abundant availability of solar and wind resources. According to International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the region is anticipating renewable energy investment of $35 billion per year by 2020. Recently, the MENA region has received some of the lowest renewable energy prices awarded globally for solar PV and wind energy.

Among MENA countries, Morocco has emerged as a role model for the entire region. The government's target of 2GW of solar and 2GW of wind power by 2020 is progressing smoothly with the commissioning of Nour-1 Solar project. Jordan and Egypt are also making steady progress in renewable energy sector.

As far as GCC is concerned, the UAE has also shown serious commitment to develop solar energy. The 100MW Shams CSP plant has been operational since 2014 in Abu Dhabi while 13MW Phase I of Dubai's solar park was completed in 2013. In Saudi Arabia, the newly launched Vision 2030 document has put forward a strong regulatory and investment framework to develop Saudi clean energy sector which should catalyse renewable energy development in the country.

What are the key trends currently driving the renewable energy industry in the MENA region?

Renewable energy has multiple advantages for MENA in the form of energy security, improved air quality, reduced GHG emissions, employment opportunities, apart from augmenting water and food security.

The business case for renewable energy proliferation in MENA is strengthened by plentiful availability of natural energy resources and tumbling solar PV technology costs which are leading to record low renewable power generation costs. The recent auction for the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park 2 in Dubai yielded prices as low as 5.85 US cents per kWh which is one of the lowest worldwide.

Reducing costs will help MENA, especially GCC, to meet its target of steady transition towards renewable energy

What impact will the falling costs of solar energy technologies have in the developing world and emerging markets?

The falling costs will have a significant positive impact in the developing world where tens of millions of people still lack access to cheap and reliable supply of energy. Reducing costs will help MENA, especially GCC, to meet its target of steady transition towards renewable energy and thus reducing dependence on fossil fuels for power generation and seawater desalination. The slump in renewable energy tariffs will also encourage utility companies in emerging markets to include more renewable energy in transmission and meet the targets set by respective countries. However, it should also be noted that there have been several instances where the actual renewable energy production failed to take place because of low bids.

What are the key developments required in the industry to help increase the share of clean energy generation worldwide?

Off-grid renewable energy technologies have tremendous potential to popularize clean energy among remote and marginalized communities across the world. Access to clean, reliable and relatively cheap energy from renewable resources, especially solar power, will usher in a new era in developing countries. Off-grid (or standalone) renewable power systems are already making a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of people across the developing world.

Advancements in battery energy storage have pushed this particular sector into media as well as public spotlight. With big industry names like Tesla and Nissan leading from the front, energy storage technologies are expected to make great contribution in transition to green grid powered by intermittent energy sources like solar PV, CSP, wind and biomass.

Concentrated solar power (CSP) has the potential to transform seawater desalination industry, one of the largest energy consumers in the Middle East. CSP offers an attractive option to power industrial-scale desalination plants that require both high temperature fluids and electricity.  CSP can provide stable energy supply for continuous operation of desalination plants, based on thermal or membrane processes. Leading CSP technology companies are already taking a keen interest in Middle East CSP market and rapid developments are expected in the coming years.

Among regional countries, Jordan and Morocco have the most advanced legal infrastructure in place to support renewable energy projects, followed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE

Do you think regional utilities and regulatory authorities are doing enough to facilitate the sustainable development of the MENA region, and are they utilising the renewable energy sectors latest technological developments? 

Lack of strong regulatory framework, low renewable energy tariffs and weak off-take mechanisms are some of the issues confronting renewable energy projects in MENA. Regulatory framework in the GCC is in early stages and marred by heavy subsidy for oil and gas. The largest barrier to growth of solar sector in MENA has been the lack of renewable energy policy framework, legislations, institutional support, feed-in-tariffs and grid access. The power sector in MENA is, by and large, dominated by state utilities which discourage entrepreneurs and Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to enter the local markets. Lack of open and transparent market conditions in MENA are acting as deterrent for investors, technology companies and project developers.

Among regional countries, Jordan and Morocco have the most advanced legal infrastructure in place to support renewable energy projects, followed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE

What advice would you give to solar energy companies outside the region looking to expand their business in the MENA region?

MENA solar market is complex due to different electricity market structure and myriad challenges in each country. Different countries have different motivations for renewable energy. Solar companies who want to foray in MENA market must give special attention to land access, grid access, transparent licensing schemes, high-quality meteorological data, creditworthy customers, long-term off-take contracts, soiling of PV panels and related issues.

EcoMENA is a Supporting Association of Solar Middle East 2017, 14-16 February at Dubai World Trade Centre. They are also members of the judging panel for the MEE Awards 2017.

If you have a great Middle East or West African Energy industry news feed, blog, podcast or video channel that you’d like us to include on Energising The Industry Online, or if you have any ideas of new Middle East or West African Energy industry topics that you’d like us to focus on in the site, then please just contact us at energy@informa.com with details!








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