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Solar Energy : the Present and Future of the Middle East


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Solar Energy: The Present and Future of the Middle East
Aalim Saleem
The American University of Sharjah
Dr. Victoria Amador
November 22, 2015

Solar energy, a pure and limitless amount of energy, has been one of the rising and popular forms of power in the Middle East. A region that is solely dependent on oil and gas as a form of energy. Since oil and gas is non-renewable and also damages the environment severely, countries in the Middle East have turned to a different form of energy. solar energy has become its direct competitor in recent years. The different projects and prospects that each country in the Middle East is pushing towards is a clear example of how important solar energy has become to these countries. Increase in economy and the many advantages of having solar energy for the environment are two benefits that this source of power is capable of providing to these countries. A limitation of solar panels is an aspect that helps gives both sides to this research paper. Accordingly this research paper discusses how all these factors are benefiting the Middle East and hence should solar energy be the main source of energy in this region.

Solar Energy: The Future and Present of the Middle East
Solar energy is the energy from the sun that is converted into thermal or electrical energy. It is one of the most abundant and cleanest renewable energy sources available, since it’s directly obtained from the sun. Solar energy has been around since the time of Neanderthals on this earth; in 700 BC humans first used the sunlight to make fire with magnifying glasses (Maehlum, 2013, para. 3). This shows that solar energy and its implementation have been around for a long time, but only recently did people just learn how to harness this energy efficiently and use it to power electrical devices. In 1839, the root of solar energy was discovered by a French scientist, Alexander Edmond Becquerel. He was only 19 when he first discovered that voltage can be generated from materials when exposed to sunlight (ibid., para. 6). His invention was later known as photovoltaic effect, which was a process in which electrodes were submerged into a conductive solution that would generate electricity. Now, solar energy is harnessed on a larger scale and is one of the most used forms of renewable source of energy in the world. On June 3rd 2015, Ahlanlive reported that the UAE was the hottest place on Earth, with a temperature recorded at 50 degrees Celsius, which broke a 15-year record in the Middle East (Hedley, 2015, para. 1). This was one of the biggest examples of the harsh conditions and climate in the Middle East, especially the heat, which is what these countries are famous for. Since these countries are always so hot and have to face all this heat or solar energy, they are some of the best sites in the world to use this power the most effectively and efficiently, allowing them to tap in this immense amount of energy. Not only is the geographic location of these countries a plus point but the economies and resources that each of these countries have all make them perfect candidates to harness this energy. So far these countries have ventured in the solar energy field briefly and this leads to one question; should solar energy be used as the main source of energy in the Middle East?
The Middle East, a transcontinental region that is described as Eurocentric, covers Western Asia and Egypt. These countries can rely completely on solar energy since it will benefit all the countries greatly. Through this research paper all the positives of having solar energy as the main source will be highlighted. They will be divided into three main parts; economics of each country and how its benefitted usage, environment issues that fossil fuels cause and how solar energy is the right alternative. Current research developments and advancements of individual countries; these main points help to identify the seriousness of each country and how they are focused on achieving their goal of completely converting to solar energy
Current developments and future prospects Currently not all countries in the Middle East can sustain and afford solar power; a few of these countries are even incapable of starting up the initial cost of such vast and expensive programs. However, there are a few countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Morocco which can afford to take over such vast projects and see them completed thoroughly; all these countries that have heavily spent in order for solar power to be used as an effective source of clean, unlimited amount of energy. How much each country has spent individually will be mentioned later on with their projects. If used and invested properly these countries can achieve centuries worth renewable energy. The UAE, the land of the oil rich tycoons and billionaires, has invested drastically into this form of renewable energy in the past years or so. Currently the UAE has various projects in the pipeline and many that have been developed already. The most popular of these projects is MASDAR City, a city that will be completely built on renewable energy, mainly solar power. It is the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city allowing better frontiers with a clean pollution free environment. Being one of the flag ship projects of “One Plant Living” – it has shown the world that it is possible to make people’s lives better while at the same time helping the environment (, 2015, paras. 4-7).
Another famous ongoing project is the DEWA solar park which is being built in the honor of Mohammed Bin Al Rashid Al Maktoum. It consists of a park that is completely reliable on solar power. Even amenities such as water, was transported from the water plant which is powered by solar energy The capacity of this park will be 1000 MW (Mega Watts) and an area of 40.5 Km (kilometers) (Solar energy, 2015,p.10). This means that this park will be a copy of the MASDAR project in Abu Dhabi, since all kinds of facilities will be powered by solar energy. The main aim of the center will be to develop renewable sources of energy such as solar energy and create energy efficiency technologies (ibid, p.16).
Al Shams 1, meaning “The Sun” in Arabic, is the largest renewable ongoing energy project in the Middle East. It is located in Abu Dhabi; its area is 2.5 square kilometers and has the capacity of 100 MWs, with 768 parabolic trough collectors for solar energy (Masdar, 2015).
According to “The National”, UAE is planning to invest Dh500 million on a new solar power plant that will be funded and operated by ACWA power a company from Saudi Arabia, when it goes online it will be the biggest plant of its type in the Middle East and North Africa. (National, 2015, para 1-4). The projects, Shams 1 and this new solar power plant will contribute to UAE achieving their target of receiving 7% energy by 2020, hence why they are very important.
Moving on to Saudi Arabia, they are considered to be the kings of all oil based countries but even they are diversifying to solar energy; recently according to Forbes blogger Natalie Robehmed, she stated that Saudi were raising $109 billion for solar energy projects. This would allow them to get a third of their energy from renewable resources by 2032 (Robehmed, 2013, para.2).
Saudi is currently in the process of building the largest solar parking project that will have a 10 MW carport system with a capacity covering around 200000 m2 (Almasoud & Gandayh, 2014, p. 154). Another project is The Farasan solar power plant and is located on the Farasan Island; it will be the only source of energy and power being supplied to this island. (ibid, pg. 154) Lastly there is the solar power plant in KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology), it’s been installed with PV panels that can supply a power of 2MWs (ibid, 2014, pg. 154). Jordan is another one of these countries that has lately been investing a lot of money into solar energy projects. In fact in 2014 Jordan was leading the race of most projects started by a country, it was awarded 12 projects (Kress, 2015, para. 14). This was a clear example of how fast these countries in the MENA region are investing in to solar energy since it is the way forward. The largest project Jordan launched was Shams Maan Solar Photovoltaic Project, which is said to be the not only the largest project in Jordan but also in the entire Middle East (Jordan Times, 2015). The power plant generates 52.5 megawatts and will be operational towards the end of 2016. The project costs around $170 million which makes it one of the largest privately owned power plants in the region (Shamsmaan, 2025). Mentioned above are the most high tech and most advanced projects that are either in their development stage or have started supporting their respected countries with clean and unlimited form of energy. Not only do these projects provide energy but they are helping in two other ways to their countries; environmentally and economically. Both the economic and environmental benefits these projects have will be discussed in detail further on. These examples clearly show why the Middle East should change to solar energy as their main source of power since they have more than one benefit to their respected countries.
Benefits of Solar Energy to the Economy Since for generations oil has been the main source of energy for the entire Middle East, as they are all oil rich nations, since solar energy has been discovered as an alternative source of energy it has come in direct competition with oil being as a source of energy countries in the Middle East have realized that solar energy is a cheaper form of energy and hence why majority of the countries are willing to shift to solar energy. Countries in the Middle East prefer to export their oil resources and gain money from the oil deprived countries, which is another big reason why solar power has gained so much momentum in the Middle East. In 2014, Dubai pulled in the lowest solar power bid in the history of the Middle East and the world. ACWA power, a company that controls power generation in more than half of the world, agreed to supply electricity on a long term contract basis for 5.84 cents per kilo watt per hour (KWH). That’s a fewer cents less than the price of natural gas in the area, the price of gas is 9 KWH, this clearly shows how changing to solar energy will benefit these countries, and this is only the beginning (Shahan, 2015, para.4). According to The National, solar and oil operate based on opposite DRIVERS. What this means is as follows; fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas, as their demand goes up, so do prices. With solar, as consumption goes up, prices come down due to economies of scale. And so, as demand for solar continues to grow in the Middle East, the imprint of solar energy across the region will expand regardless of the fluctuations in oil prices (Fotuhi, 2014, para.12). This has allowed the countries in the Middle East to export oil at a higher price causing the oil prices to swoop to a new high recently. The plus point is no matter how high or low the oil prices fluctuate solar energy will only grow. Lastly solar energy created jobs, according to a study by the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies; solar energy creates industrial diversification and jobs. New green jobs are being created that include engineering, technological and R&D jobs all which are white collar jobs in the Middle East (El-Katiri & Husain, 2014, p. 11). The Uae has created several jobs for expatriates with their new shams-1 project and MASDAR, however in the long run these expatriates will be replaced by local engineers. This allows diversification of work since different people from different backgrounds come and work together (ibid., 2014, p. 11). All these are a few ways that solar energy is benefiting the economy and helping these countries become economically sound and sustainable. Solar energy will help the Middle East’s economy better than any other renewable resource currently being used in the world. Since it’s so much cheaper compared to other forms of renewable energy, and therefore it is currently the most researched upon energy source in the Middle East.
Environmental benefits in the Middle East One of the biggest advantages of solar energy is that it creates no pollution at all, which is the greatest advantage solar energy has over other renewable resources especially the burning of fossil fuels such as oil. Burning oil or other fossil fuels releases harmful greenhouse gasses, carcinogens and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Solar energy makes sure none of this happens. Global warming is another factor that is fueling this movement of solar energy in the Middle East, since the harsh climates here are getting worse day by day and the UAE government wants to do something about that.
The drawback of using solar energy Solar energy does not have many drawbacks, however, scientists have proposed that it has a few limitations; some of them being initial startup cost, efficiency, expensive solar panels and one of the main drawbacks it cannot be harnessed at night. These are some of the points many scientists and governments bring up when solar energy is proposed as a source of energy. The initial startup or investment for such projects is exorbitant and this makes it a big barrier to overcome, this is one of the main reasons why some of the poorer Middle East nations are unable to tap in to solar energy resources. Solar panels are not 100% efficient. They do not convert the entire solar radiation that hits the surfaces of the solar panels, but in fact only 40% of the 100 is actually used making it weaker compared to burning fossil fuels, if just efficiency is compared. It is generally not possible for a PV (photovoltaic) cell to attain energy that is more than 33% because solar cells can only absorb a certain range of wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum (Das, 2014). Solar panels or PV cells are the main components of a solar power plant these instruments take the radiating solar energy and transfer it into electrical energy, the problem is the panels and cells are really expensive and this raises concerns. Especially in the Middle East where one of the biggest issues is the fact that during sand storms or other desert conditions, sand gets stuck to solar panels and hence they need to be replaced. One of the main drawbacks is that at nights solar plants still need to burn fossil fuels to generate electricity, since the amount of energy that one solar plant stores in a day isn’t enough to last them months so at some point fossil fuels or oils have to be used to generate electricity.
All these reasons do bring up questions regarding the use of solar energy in the Middle East however most of these limitations and drawbacks can be dealt with. Initial startup costs can be a problem but over a long period of time it is a very sustainable way since harnessing the power of the sun shouldn’t be costly. Another thing is that solar energy is still at its infant stage in majority of these Middle Eastern countries and hence they are constantly developing, so problems such as efficiency and power at night are constantly being looked into and soon there will be solutions for both these problems. Even though the solar panels and PV cells may get damaged they can be maintained properly, so it’s completely down to the individual governments and countries on how well they protect the cells and panels.
In conclusion, solar energy should be proposed and be used by all countries in the Middle East since it helps provide the countries better economy, greener environments and not to mention larger and future prospects. Solar energy is still at a very young or early stage in majority of these countries and hence countries need to take action right away. According to a survey done at American University of Sharjah, 60% of the people voted yes they would like solar energy to be the main forms of energy in the Middle East. Majority of them feel that it is a greener source of energy and is the future of the Middle East (Saleem, survey, December 18, 2015). This survey helped to identify that not only the governments but also the residents of Uae want solar energy to be used as the main source of energy.
Scientists feel that oils and fossil fuels will be around for a long time and hence will be the dominant form of energy source, but it’s about time these countries completely turn their attention to solar energy and focus on making it the priority form of energy in the Middle East.
Word count: 2852

Almasoud, A., & Gadayh, H. (2013). Future of solar energy in Saudi Arabia. Journal Of King Saud University – Engineering Sciences, 154. Retrieved December 6, 2015, from:
Das, A. (2014). A Guide to Solar Power GeneraAon in the United Arab Emirates (1st ed., p. 11). Dubai: MESIA. Retrieved December 18, 2015 from
Dh500m solar power project planned for Northern Emirates (2015, April 5). The National. Retrieved December 6, 2015 from:
El-katiri, L. , & Husain, M. (2014). Prospects for Renewable Energy in GCC States: Opportunities and the Need for Reform. The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. 2 – 25. Retrieved from:
Fotuhi, V. (2014). Solar power to shine through in the Middle East in 2015. The National. Retrieved from
Hedley, T. (2013). THE UAE WAS THE HOTTEST PLACE IN THE WORLD YESTERDAY! Ahlan live. Retrieved December 6, 2015 from:
Jordan launches the Middle East's largest solar energy project (2015, June 9th). Albawaba business. Retrieved from:
Kress, R. (2015). Solar Energy to Take Off in the Middle East and North Africa, Increasing Oil Exports. The Fuse. Retrieved 6 December 2015, from:
Maehlum, M, (2013). The History of Solar Energy. Energy Informative. Retrieved December 6, 2015 from: (2015). Shams 1. Retrieved December 6, 2015, from:
Robehmed, N. (2013). The Middle East Turns To Solar Energy. Retrieved December 6, 2015, from:
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Shahan, Z. (2015). Cradle of World Oil Supply, Middle East Embracing Solar Energy. Global Warming is Real. Retrieved December 6, 2015, from:,. (2015). Shams Ma'an » Power Generation PSC. Retrieved December 18, 2015, from
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