Is the Middle East building the infrastructure needed to go solar?
Support for solar energy is ramping up in the Middle East, but are governments investing in the infrastructure needed to support these ambitions?
The Middle East has been steadily shifting its reliance away from oil and fossil fuels and more towards solar power and renewable energy over the last decade.
Swiss-based technology company ABB has been a driving force in creating the infrastructure needed to support this shift, actively working with governments across the Middle East to develop large-scale solar projects.
“When you look into ABB’s strategy, we are looking act how to successfully integrate solar into the grid, how to improve the transportation system, and how to deliver a greener and more stable [network],” said Mostafa Al Guezeri, managing director at ABB told Construction Week.
ABB is currently working on the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in the UAE, one of the largest solar projects in the world.
When completed in 2030, the park will occupy 214 sq km, generate 5,000MW and reduce carbon emissions by approximately 6.5 million tons.
The UAE launched its ambitious Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 to make Dubai a global centre of clean energy and green economy, and will help increase power supply and meet the goals for increased use of renewables. ABB is supporting this and other initiatives across the region.
“We have provided the financing to execute [a number projects in the region],” Al Guezeri said. “ABB has several projects in Kuwait within the automation and oil and gas industries. We also have projects in Oman and Bahrain that we have recently been awarded as well.”
In 2017, ABB delivered its first substation connecting the second phase of the MBR Solar Park, integrating 200MW of electricity to the transmission grid.
In April, the company was awarded an order worth $90m to build a substation that will integrate solar power from upcoming phases of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar park into the city’s electrical grid.
ABB said it will be its second substation for the park as a booming growth in population and economic sectors, like tourism, have increased demand for energy.
In fact, ABB has had quite an active year, revealing in March that it is currently bidding for nearly $700m (AED2.6bn) worth of power projects in the UAE.
These include a 132kV substation project for the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), as well as a solar power plant project with ACWA Power.
According to Al Guezeri, the company is also bidding for ADNOC expansion projects and eyeing opportunities with the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority.
“Overall, ABB is pitching for $600m (AED2.2bn) to $700m (AED2.6bn) of projects in the UAE,” Al Guezeri told Construction Week in March.
The company has also been involved in a 400kV substation at the Mohammed bin Rashid Solar Park and was awarded 400kV substations for the DEWA Shams projects in April.
“This project, in my opinion, is another to solidify our track record, confirming ABB’s ability to execute these types of projects in the UAE,” Al Guezeri said.
ABB has been quite active in other parts of the region this year as well.
“If you look at neighbouring countries, we recently secured a 132kv substations in Iraq, which is basically part of the commitment of the reconstruction plan of that country,” he added.
As regional economies look to diversify away from traditional oil and gas power models, new energy sources are proving to be cost- and time-effective ways of ensuring local energy requirements are met with minimal impact on the environment.
But why has it taken so long for these countries to execute a more solar-focused plan in a regional so abundant in sunlight and competitive pricing?
“The actual shift from fossil fuels towards solar to supply energy products is a challenge in itself because it depends on the sun – something we have not used before,” he said.
“But looking at the cost of the fossil fuel, versus the government incentives given to solar projects, I would say this now gives the push for people to install solar infrastructure in their own homes because it’s just cheaper.”
Another challenge Al Guezeri mentions is dust and the struggle to keep solar modules clean in desert environments.
“But ABB now has technologies like the Arora software, which gives you the exact time when to do maintenance, and when to do the exact cleaning of the modules in order to get the best efficiency out of them.
“Although the dust is a challenge, we now have machines that can clean them,” he said.
The GCC is one of ABB’s largest markets for solar and renewables globally. Though Saudi Arabia and the UAE are still leading the charge, other countries have taken greater initiative recently.
Jordan, which started from smaller residential rooftop solar panels is now developing major solar power plants. Kuwait is also an upcoming market, while Oman is in discussions now to start integrating solar power into its grid.
“All countries are now taking it at a fast pace, because this is the future,” Al Guezeri said.
“We need to continue on the same development path we are on now, we need to concentrate on building more infrastructure, and breaking into one of the things I believe we still lag in as a region, which is solar root tops for houses,” he continued.
Dajani has seen substation progress in the Middle East however, especially in GCC countries. He mentioned that when he was participating in different events across the region ten years ago, there was merely chatter about looking into solar as a major part of energy production.
But only in the last five years has Al Guezeri observed a noticeable shift, with countries putting more of an effort to reach their targets.
“We have so much sun, and we have all of these components [to create] solar energy and we are not using it,” said Al Guezeri.
“Simply, it is a shift in mindset, while also looking into different sources to generate cleaner energy,” he concluded.