Middle East, North Africa embrace solar despite long history of oil reliance
Long established as the oil capital of the world, the Middle East doesn’t come to mind quickly in conversations about renewable energy, unless as a contradiction. That’s all about to change, with two massive solar energy projects currently under construction in the gulf region.
Expected to become the Middle East’s largest photovoltaic solar project, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park sits in the desert 30 miles south of Dubai. Originally launched in 2013 with a capacity of 13 megawatts, UAE’s flagship solar farm is is expected to expand to 3,000 MW over the next 15 years, providing the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority enough power to meet 15 percent of the entire country’s demand.
While the UAE is poised to host one of the largest photovoltaic solar system in the region, Morocco will soon be home to one of the world’s largest concentrated solar panel arrays. Situated in the province that once provided the backdrop to Hollywood successes “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Gladiator,” The Ouarzazate solar complex will account for roughly a quarter of Morocco’s new electricity generation. The project is a major component of the 2,000 MW solar development program launched in Morocco in 2009.
While petroleum will remain the primary economic driver for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) for decades to come, renewable energy is gaining traction in the region, receiving substantial interest and investment from both government leaders and private-sector energy firms.
Experts have long identified MENA as having a high potential for renewable energy production, but the region’s historical reliance on oil and gas paired with its uneven economic growth and political instability have held it back from maximum solar growth. However, upcoming years could see that changing rapidly. Last year, 30 solar energy projects received contracts in MENA nations, including 12 new solar sites in Jordan alone. At the same time, UAE began pouring billions of dollars into new clean energy projects that could change the narrative of energy in the Middle East forever.
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