Middle East > Bahrain > More than 85% of MENA land can generate Solar electricity

Bahrain: More than 85% of MENA land can generate Solar electricity


We often hear about the Middle East and North Africa’s (MENA) centrality in world energy markets as it is home to extra than 52 and 42 % of world reserves of oil and gas respectively. The region is as well responsible for extra than 36 and 20 % of world oil and gas production.


Nevertheless, MENA is as well the world leader in other aspects of the energy markets, namely energy use and energy intensity (i.e. energy use per $1,000 of output). Between 1981 and 2009 these grew faster in MENA than any other region. Furthermore, the gap between MENA and other regions is significant(Figure 1). This is especially true in energy intensity, which saw negative increase rates in amount regions during 1981-2009, except for MENA.

These figures highlight the inefficiencies associated with energy usage in MENA, which are half driven by the fuel subsidies – an integral among of the economies of the region. In 2009 alone, energy subsidies in MENA amounted to about US$170 billion (Iran has the highest, at US$65 billion), constituting around eight % of MENA’s US$2.2 trillion GDP. These subsidies are not only expensive but as well badly targeted; mostly benefiting the region’s wealthiest.

Such inefficient consumption of energy has had adverse affects on the air quality in MENA. Five MENA countries, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Iran, and Kuwait are among the top ten countries in terms of PM10[1] concentrations. Moreover, 29 cities in MENA are among the 100 most polluted cities in the world.

One industry in particular bears responsibility for such high levels of pollution in the region: electricity. While MENA’s people and GDP have grown at an average annual rate of 2.4 and 5.5 % between 1981 and 2009, its electricity production has grown by an average annual rate of 7.2 %, outperforming amount other regions such as East Asia (at 6.2 %) and Latin America (at 4.5 %). This rapid increase of electricity production has introduced a significant environmental challenge for MENA because 96 % of its installed capacity is running on fossil fuels. Renewables (including hydropower) account for only about 3 % of its installed capacity, making the electricity sector in MENA one of the least environmentally friendly in the world. This is especially true for countries where the share of oil in electricity production is extra than 50 %: Yemen (100%), Lebanon (94%), Iraq (92%), Kuwait (71%), Saudi Arabia (55%), and Syria (50%).

While shifting from oil to natural gas is an economically logical strategy for electricity sectors in MENA, it has environmental consequences: 45 % of current CO2 emissions in MENA are from burning natural gas. Accordingly, a shift from oil to ’renewables,’ mainly solar power, is the majority environmentally sound and sustainable option.

Solar electricity generation is possible in areas with direct normal irradiance (DNI) above 5 kWh per meter square per day, which is true for extra than 85 % of MENA. In a 2008 study, the Center for World Development reported that solar power in MENA has the potential of meeting 50 to 70 % of world electricity request. Accordingly, it is technically and as well economically feasible (albeit on a level economic playing field and over the long-term) for MENA to meet its internal electricity request from purely solar power. Furthermore, MENA has the potential to become an exporter of solar energy to Africa and Europe. Europe is an especially ripe and ready market for MENA’s solar power. The European Union’s (EU) energy strategy, as reported in EU-27’s Energy Roadmap 2050 calls for 64 to 97 % of the EU’s electricity to be supplied from renewable sources by 2050.

Besides its role in reducing pollution and the export potential to Europe, solar power provides a stable and predictable price as it does not depend on highly volatile fossil fuel markets for electricity generation, making investments in this sector highly desirable.

In sum, solar power offers MENA tremendous environmental and economic advantages. To achieve them, solar power would need a level playing field to gain access to MENA’s electricity industry. Removing fossil fuel subsidies would be a necessary first step in this direction.

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