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August 25, 2015 | Solar Energy Makes Strides in the Middle East

Solar energy and the Middle East are not two subjects that are ordinarily mentioned in the same sentence. When one thinks of the Middle East, one generally thinks of oil and gas production, not renewable energy.

But increasingly, Middle Eastern countries are making solar energy plays. For one thing, not all Middle Eastern countries are awash in oil. And beyond that, the other primary resource in the Middle East is sunlight, which desert kingdoms have in abundance but until now hasn’t been used to its fullest potential.

Saudi Arabia Begins to Turn Toward Solar

Saudi Arabia, in many ways, is a green energy advocate’s nightmare, as The Atlantic recently noted. The kingdom sells gasoline to its subjects at 50 cents a gallon and electricity at a penny per kilowatt hour. It can do this because it has plenty of oil that is relatively easy to get out of the ground. But, as a result, Saudis drive around in gas guzzlers, few buildings have insulation, and air conditioning is used in astonishing excess, even considering how hot the average temperature is. Moreover, the Saudis produce most of their energy by burning oil, while the rest of the world has mostly switched to coal and natural gas. Their power plants are “colossally inefficient,” according to The Atlantic.

However, the Saudi government has taken notice of an inconvenient outcome of the kingdom’s skyrocketing energy consumption. If left unchecked, Saudi Arabia will be in the embarrassing position of having to import oil by 2038.

Clearly, turning toward solar is a way to avoid this situation. Besides the fact that Saudi Arabia has a massive amount of sunlight, the cost of solar cells has plummeted. The theory is that the more energy that is generated in the kingdom from renewables, the more oil and gas can be exported. Plus, if Saudi Arabia can build solar power panel manufacturing plants inside the kingdom, it can export the panels to other countries.

Jordan Makes Its Solar Energy Play

Jordan lies next door to Saudi Arabia. It too has a lot of sunlight. It does not, however, have a lot of oil and gas, which it is compelled to import. It was only a matter of time, as Al Bawaba Business reported in June, before Jordan would make its own solar energy play.

The Shams Maan Solar Photovoltaic Project, to be located near the town of Maan in southern Jordan, is considered the largest solar energy project in the Middle East. When completed it will generate 52.5 MW of electricity, about one percent of Jordan’s total consumption. The cost of the project is estimated to be $170 million.

The project is part of an effort to generate 10 percent of Jordan’s energy needs from renewables by 2020, as part of the 2012 Renewable Energy Law.

In addition to a practical desire to diversify its sources of energy production, Jordan is keenly aware that countries from which it imports oil and gas are going through volatile times. It lost gas imports from Egypt thanks to the turmoil that country experienced during the Arab Spring, and as a result, sustained a loss of 3 billion Jordanian dinars.

Solar’s Stability Is a Large Part of Its Regional Appeal

It is a testament to the increasing economic competitiveness of solar energy that it is making inroads in the Middle East. While fossil fuels are subject to price fluctuations, partly because of political upheavals in the region, the sun does not have a spigot that can be turned on and off at will. It puts out the same amount of energy every day. The price of solar can only go down as technology improves and economies of scale kick in, something that is as true in the desert kingdoms of the Middle East as it is in the western world.