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Middle East’s Energy Transition – The future is bright in the Middle East


The Middle East, a region comprised of several developing countries, is well-known for being extremely reliant on fossil fuel to develop its economy and procure electricity, despite having a high renewable energy potential. Yet, those countries now aim to diversify their oil-based economy through renewable energy and achieve their energy transition targets. Accordingly, this transition enticed many investors to help finance the development of renewable energy in the Middle East.

Renewable Energy

In the last 20 years, the Middle East made significant developments in the field of renewable energy. Several countries, Sultanate of Oman, Kuwait, and the UAE for example, demonstrated some interest towards renewables at an early stage, as they carried out a resource assessment to identify the key renewable resources available. Unfortunately, no considerable action was taken until the year 2010. Jordan was the first country in the region to develop, introduce and enforce a comprehensive law that aims to increase the share of renewables and improve energy efficiency.

The Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Law (REEEL) defines relevant stakeholders, creating a well-organised market structure to ease the transition towards renewables. Furthermore, it prioritises renewable energy projects and permits direct project proposals, which allows anyone to submit proposals for developing a site that exploits renewable energy resources. The law also introduced a feed-in tariff scheme, as well as tax and customs duties fees exemptions.

The REEEL has proven to be quite effective, as it continues to attract regional and international investors, growing the Kingdom’s renewable energy sector. Numerous renewable energy projects, especially in wind and solar energy fields, were implemented all over the Kingdom in the last ten years. By the end of year 2019, the share of renewables in Jordan’s electricity mix reached 13 % with an installed capacity of approx. 1.56 GW, exceeding its renewable energy target for 2020 by 3 % (1). By 2021, the installed capacity of renewable energy systems is planned to reach 2.40 GW, as Jordan aims to achieve its new target of 20 % by 2025 (2).

Figure 1 | Tafileh Wind Farm (installed capacity: 117 MW). Location: Tafileh Governate, Jordan (3).

Alongside Jordan, Egypt was another country that was successful in adopting a renewable energy law. Egypt’s law aims to encourage the private sector to procure electricity through renewables. It introduces a feed-in tariff and several development schemes for private development of renewable energy projects, including competitive bids and independent power production (IPP) through third party access (4). As a result, significant developments are foreseen in the near future.

In 2019, a 250 MW wind park and one of the world’s largest solar photovoltaic (PV) projects with a solar capacity of roughly 1.47 GW became operational. The PV farm “Benban” is located in the Egyptian southern desert and is expected to expand its capacity to a total of 1.80 GW (5). According to the 2035 Integrated Sustainable Energy Strategy, Egypt’s energy transition target is to reach a share of 20 % of renewables in the electricity mix by 2022 and 42 % by 2035. The country is planning to achieve those targets by installing a total capacity of 61 GW, consisting of 31 GW PV, 12 GW concentrated solar power (CSP), and 18 GW wind power (6).

Figure 2 | Benban PV farm (installed capacity: 1.47 GW). Location: Aswan Province, Egypt.

Large-scale projects are scheduled and expected all over the Middle East, especially in the PV sector. For instance, UAE’s largest solar PV project, an 800 MW solar PV park in Dubai, is as of 2020 online and operational (7). In Saudi Arabia, a 300 MW solar PV project recently became operational (8), while a shortlist of developers was chosen for the tenders with a total capacity of 1.47 GW solar PV projects (9).

In Oman, the Sultanate’s first wind farm with an installed capacity of 50 MW became operational in 2019 (10). In the same year, a financial closure was finally achieved in March for Oman’s largest solar PV farm with an installed capacity of 500 MW (11). Many other projects with a total installed capacity of 3.05 GW are currently being planned or acquired in Oman. Those projects are expected to represent 16 % of its electricity mix by 2025, exceeding its target by 6 % (12).

Scientific Developments

Not only is the Middle East’s energy transition in full throttle, but significant scientific developments are also being achieved. Scientists at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia developed an ultrathin organic PV cell using an inkjet printer. A single cell weighs 0.057 mg, has a surface area of 0.1 cm2 and can achieve a power conversion efficiency of 4.73 %. This technology was primarily developed for bio-medical applications; however, it is demonstrating great potential as an energy harvesting device for a variety of applications (13).

Figure 3 | Ultrathin organic PV cell (weight: 0.057 mg) (14)

Transition towards Sustainability

The Middle East’s economy in its current form is shown, in terms of available resources, to be unsustainable in the long run. Despite having a high renewable energy potential, the Middle East has been extremely reliant on its fossil fuel resources to secure electricity, some nations even to power their economy. However, the transition towards renewables has begun and the nations are committed to achieve their set targets.

Many renewable energy projects, especially in the field of solar and wind energy, are either being planned, commissioned, constructed or are already operational. The solar capacity (PV and CSP) in the Middle East is anticipated to amount to roughly 200 GW by the year 2035 (15). In addition, it is estimated that between 5 billion and 7.5 billion US-Dollars have been invested in solar power projects in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region and that by 2024, that value is expected to reach up to 20 billion US-Dollars (16). Therefore, it is safe to say that the Middle East is proving to be a vital force in the crusade against climate change, as it continues to attract investments into the renewable energy sector.

By: Murad Tbaileh


(1) https://memr.gov.jo/ebv4.0/root_storage/ar/­eb_list_page/memr_annual_report_2019_-_15.5.2020.pdf

(2) https://www.power-technology.com/comment/­jordan-renewable-energy-2019/#:~:text=By%20the%20end%20of%202018,MEMR%20said%20in%20a%20statement

(3) https://www.jordanwind.com/­autumn-launch-first-wind-farm

(4) https://www.iea.org/policies/6104-egypt-­renewable-energy-law-decree-no-2032014

(5) https://www.pv-magazine.com/2020/01/17/­mesia-outlines-past-progress­-future-promise-in-sweeping-look-at-solar-across-middle-east-and-north-africa/

(6) https://www.evwind.es/2019/12/18/egypt-will-­produce-61000mw-of-­renewable-energy-of-which-12000mw-concentrated-solar-power-and-­18000mw-wind-power/72588

(7) https://www.acciona-me.com/projects/­mohammed-bin-rashid-al-maktoum-solar-park/

(8) https://www.acwapower.com/en/­projects/sakaka-ipp/

(9) https://www.pv-magazine.com/2020/04/­03/lowest-shortlisted-bid-in-saudi-1-47-gw-tender-was-0-0161-kwh/­?utm_source=Bibblio&utm_campaign=Internal

(10) https://www.omanobserver.om/­omans-first-wind-farm-project-comes-online/

(11) https://energyindustryreview.com/renewables/­first-renewable-energy-financing-in-oman/#:~:text=Project%20summary,solar%20PV%20Independent%­20Power%20Project.&text=Located%20around%20300km%20west%20of,power%20supplies%20in%20the%20Sultanate.

(12) https://www.omanobserver.om/­oman-targets-3050-mw-of-renewables-by-2025/

(13) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/­admt.202000226#admt202000226-fig-0001

(14) https://www.pv-magazine.com/2020/09/01/­a-cell-so-thin-it-can-­rest-on-a-soap-bubble/

(15) https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/­2020/05/07/­arab-states-are-embracing-solar-power

(16) https://www.arabnews.com/­node/1615406/saudi-arabia

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