EDF Renewables Is Playing An Active Role In The Region’s Energy Transition And Will Be Developing Several Gigawatt-Scale Projects Set To Come Online In 2023, While Also Delivering Those Awarded In Previous Bidding Rounds – Ayham Mkalalati, Operations Director EDF Renewables

Ayham Mkalalati – Operations Director EDF Renewables

Give us an overview of what 2023 looks like for the Middle East Solar Energy Market, what are some of the latest trends that you see positively taking over the sector?


In 2023, the Middle Eastern solar photovoltaic (PV) market is poised for significant growth with multiple gigawatt utility-scale projects undergoing tendering and expected to be awarded in the same year. EDF Renewables is playing an active role in the region’s energy transition and “will be developing several gigawatt-scale projects set to come online in 2023, while also delivering those awarded in previous bidding rounds. While 2022 was largely characterized by project delivery and execution, the focus in 2023 will shift towards a new cycle of solar project bidding, with expectations of record-breaking outcomes.

The growth of the Middle East market is closely tied to continuous technological advancements, increased industry maturity due to the involvement of major international players such as EDF Renewables and following the strong recovery from the disruptive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the supply chain and shipping. Additionally, an important differentiating factor that is set to drive the solar industry’s growth in 2023 is the COP28 Summit scheduled to be hosted in the UAE at the end of the year. This event is expected to see a surge of renewable energy project announcements and sustainability initiatives as Middle Eastern governments strive to achieve their Net Zero goals, bolstering the region’s solar industry further.


Starting off with the UAE, the projections are to award 3.3 GW of utility scale solar PV projects in 2023, and potentially up to 4.8 GW based on some recent announcements. Based on the current projects under construction, the expectation is to connect approximately 3 GW of PV projects to the grid by this year. On the distributed solar generation side, Dubai is leading with the Shams Dubai program, where commercial & industrial solar rooftop installations reached 500 MW in 2022.

As of January this year, Dubai’s renewable energy production capacity stands at 14% of the total production capacity, which is expected to increase by year-end as projects become operational. Collectively, these projects play a crucial role, and the UAE is well on track to achieve its 14 GW target for clean power generation by 2030.

In Saudi Arabia, the utility-scale solar PV market is being driven by the Renewable Energy Project Development Office (REPDO), in collaboration with the Saudi Power Procurement Company (SPPC), the Public Investment Fund (PIF), and Saudi Aramco. This concerted effort is expected to result in tendering and awarding of up to 10 GW of solar and wind projects in 2023, marking it a record year for the Kingdom, where EDF Renewables will be at the forefront of onshore wind and solar developments. 

Furthermore, through initiatives like the NEOM, Red Sea, and Amaala projects, which are being powered entirely by renewable energy and storage technologies with micro-grids, Saudi Arabia is taking a leading role in demonstrating the feasibility of a future global transition to grids powered by 100% clean energy.

Despite falling behind on its renewable energy targets, Saudi Arabia is expected to catch up and reach the 58.7 GW of renewable projects by 2030, solidifying its position as a renewable energy leader in the Middle East. EDF Renewables will be a driving force to support and accelerate the local renewable project development activities in the Kingdom.

In the Sultanate of Oman, Authority for Public Services Regulation (APSR) has approved the Oman Power and Water Procurement Company to award two solar PV projects with a combined capacity of 1 GW, one of which was recently awarded to EDF Renewables. EDF Renewables has entered the Oman market and is well positioned to further developments aligning with Oman Vision 2040 Plan. Another trend Oman has been exploring the potential of green hydrogen as a clean energy source and has recently launched several initiatives to promote the production and use of green hydrogen in the country, where EDF has also devised its own hydrogen strategy that is fully aligned with the objectives of countries in the region, in production of hydrogen and its derivatives.

Qatar, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon are among the Middle Eastern countries that recognize the significance of solar PV technology as the ideal clean energy source for achieving sustainability and independence. These nations are actively adopting this technology to transition towards a cleaner and greener energy future.

– What were the company’s influential projects from 2022?

The Al Dhafra Solar PV IPP project in Abu Dhabi, for which major construction activities took place in 2022, is a significant achievement for EDF Renewables and the renewable energy sector. It is the largest single-site solar power plant in the world, with a capacity of 2.1 GWp. The project achieved some record-breaking installation milestones, ramping up to 20 MW per day at its peak and over 300 MW in a month. The successful operation of the Al Dhafra Solar PV IPP project will demonstrate to the world the viability and scalability of solar deployment, and a strong commitment towards the transition to renewable energy.

Also Read  Shining A Light On Kenya's Solar Industry, This Interview Delves Into The Unique Challenges And Opportunities Faced By Operators In The Country - Julie Greene, Managing Director, Renewvia Solar Africa

Similarly, the completion of the South Jeddah Noor solar PV project in Saudi Arabia in 2023 is a significant milestone for EDF Renewables in their commitment to support the country’s renewable energy targets. The 300 MW project will contribute significantly to the diversification of Saudi Arabia’s energy mix and inch toward the country’s renewable energy targets.

Furthermore, the MBR Phase III 800 MW solar project in Dubai, which is reaching its 5th anniversary, is another success story for EDF Renewables, demonstrating the maturity and staying power of renewable energy technologies, as proven clean alternate sources of energy on this massive scale.

EDF Renewables’ success in developing these iconic projects, together with their strategic partners and governments, is a testament to their expertise and commitment to be a global pioneer in supporting the achievement of renewable energy targets in the region. Large-scale solar projects like these are critical in accelerating the transition towards a low-carbon economy, and EDF Renewables has proven to be a leading player in driving its mission.

– What do you think the solar industry’s future holds, and how do you see the solar energy industry evolving in the next 5-10 years

Solar PV technology has rapidly emerged as a mature, bankable, and predictable source of clean energy. Due to the large utility scale projects developed by EDF Renewables and other players in the sector, we created an ecosystem for testing and implementing innovations that play an important role in optimizing the development costs and maximizing the energy yield. In a world facing the uncertainties of fossil fuels and global warming, solar energy offers independence, stability, and sustainability. The demand for clean energy government initiatives, corporate commitments to source electricity from renewable sources, and heightened awareness among individuals regarding the need to reduce carbon footprints, are all driving forces of the solar industry. As a result, we will see in the next decade that solar technology will not only continue to evolve horizontally in terms of efficiency and scalability but also vertically by complementing other emerging technologies and integrating with a wider range of applications. EDF Renewables and its partners are at the forefront of technological innovation, having recently launched a test field initiative to carry out experiments that test the viability of new technologies, improve efficiency, implement innovative solutions, and reduce costs.

Energy storage technology is a critical element of the future of the solar industry, enabling the provision of reliable, consistent, and uninterrupted power. Battery technology is advancing at a faster pace than solar PV technology, primarily due to the growing demand for more storage in our mobile devices and the increasing popularity of electric vehicles. In the coming years, we can expect even greater advancements in energy storage technology, driving down costs and enabling the provision of 24-hour power from solar plus storage systems. The mass adoption of electric vehicles and the transportation sector will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and allow for charging with solar PV-powered batteries. Advanced analytics and smart monitoring technologies will also help adjust people’s behaviors to waste less energy and use wisely at the right time.

Solar PV will continue to play a critical role in complementing advancements in other complementary technologies. Solar PV will be essential in powering electrolyzers to produce green hydrogen or ammonia, integrating it into smart grids to manage and optimize the supply and demand of electricity, as well as incorporating weather forecasting. The AI and digitalization era will further improve the reliability of solar PV power plants, using condition-based predictive maintenance and optimizing production while maintaining high plant availability targets.

Overall, the future of the solar industry remains promising. With further advancements in technology and increasing global demand for clean energy, the solar industry is well-positioned for continued growth and success. As solar PV continues to compete favorably against traditional sources of electricity, it is projected to become the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency. The widespread adoption of solar plus storage systems has the potential to bring electricity to parts of the world where access to reliable power is currently limited, improving the quality of life and spurring economic development. The solar industry is a key player in the energy transition expected in the years to come, and EDF Renewables will continue to be a vital force in shaping the future of sustainable energy both regionally and globally.

– Can you discuss any challenges that you have faced in developing and implementing solar energy projects, and how you overcame them?

Also Read  The Financing Landscape For Solar Projects In Kenya Presents Opportunities And Challenges, With Increasing Interest From Investors But A Need For Supportive Policies To Drive Sustainable Growth - CATHY KUYOH,  Head of Credit- East Africa, Starsight Premier Energy Group (SPEG)

Despite the significant success and widespread adoption of solar PV, the industry has faced major challenges, such as material price volatility, site conditions, design mistakes, and integration into the grid. In a globally connected economy, unforeseen events like the COVID-19 pandemic have only exacerbated these challenges. Specifically, solar PV module prices have been particularly affected by changes in supply and demand, raw material prices, and fluctuations in the global economy. These issues have been compounded by disruptions to the electronic industry supply chain, including shortages of key materials like semiconductors, which have impacted delivery times, increased project risks, and impacted project economics. Several EDF Renewables projects in the Middle East were faced with such challenges, however, as a large multi-national group, we have managed to overcome these challenges and pave the way for successful project implementation

Solar PV is a material intensive technology with a large footprint, and any disruption to supply chains can have a significant impact on overall project costs. The high volatility of PV module prices and commodities like steel and copper, coupled with the large scale of solar projects and increased logistics for shipping, have raised the overall cost of solar projects and put their viability at risk. Moreover, unforeseen interconnection requirements and sub-soil conditions have led to scope creep on many solar projects, resulting in disputes and further increasing project costs and delays.

To mitigate the risk of material price volatility, it is essential to establish strong relationships with suppliers and manufacturers, including securing long-term contracts and diversifying sources, while allowing flexibility in project agreements. EDF Renewables has shortlisted and forged strong relationships with key suppliers, which has helped to diversify and minimize the impact from price volatility risks. Secondly, it is important to conduct thorough site investigation studies during the development stage, which may entail cost, but will help to identify any potential issues early on and enable effective mitigation strategies to be put in place. Additionally, having a contingency plan in place to handle unexpected site conditions or interconnection requirements will help to minimize delays and disputes. EDR Renewables has dedicated teams that prepare and obtain comprehensive studies by performing on the ground testing of site conditions.

Given the long-term nature of solar projects, it is crucial to ensure that design and engineering decisions are reviewed thoroughly, and component specifications are chosen to withstand harsh and variable environmental conditions over a period of 20-30 years. Oversight of design or specification mistakes can lead to catastrophic ripple effects throughout the project, putting the system at risk of completion and shortening the lifespan of system components. Design and engineering decisions must be carefully considered to ensure that system components can withstand harsh and variable environmental conditions over the 20-30 year lifespan of the project. Regular quality control checks and inspections throughout the installation process can help to identify and correct any mistakes early on, before they replicate through the installation. EDF Renewables ensures that design decisions are extensively reviewed by different layers including engineering teams from the group’s local & international headquarters, the Project Company and its partners, and a third-party consultants.

Another challenge is the increased injection of intermittent renewable energy sources into the municipal grid, which can cause grid stability issues due to rapid changes in environmental conditions such as sudden sandstorms or cloud coverage. the integration of smart grid technologies and battery storage systems can help to manage the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources and ensure grid stability. These technologies can help to smooth out sudden changes in weather conditions and ensure a reliable and consistent energy supply.

Overall, overcoming these challenges requires teamwork and collaboration among stakeholders, partners, and industry players to minimize their impact and ensure project success. The industry is continuing to evolve to proactively address these challenges through innovation, collaboration, strategic planning, and contractual arrangements. EDF Renewables has a network of experts who actively share lessons learned and support one another to overcome challenges.

– What are the most important considerations in ensuring the long-term viability and profitability of a solar plant, and how do you address them?

The solar power industry has become highly competitive due to its predictable nature, ease of installation, and lender comfort with financing. However, this competition has become cut-throat, with developers submitting record-breaking tariffs in reverse auctions for solar PV tenders. While the adoption and scale of solar PV have been supported by this mechanism, it has also led to aggressive modeling assumptions, cutting costs, and sacrificing quality, which could lead to long-term detrimental risks and a negative image for the industry.

To ensure the long-term viability and profitability of solar power projects, it is crucial to refocus on several considerations that should be embedded throughout the entire value chain. First, there should be an emphasis on equalizing technical requirements rather than solely reducing tariffs. Second, high-quality components should be sourced to ensure a long design life. Third, modeling solar performance should be based on reasonable assumptions to ensure returns are met. Fourth, redundant designs should be considered to maximize availability. Fifth, advanced monitoring and analytics provisions should be installed to reveal performance. Sixth, rigorous predictive maintenance regimes should be implemented to mitigate failures from occurring. Finally, budget provisions should be made for spare parts and R&D to facilitate improvements throughout the project’s lifetime.

Also Read  Tenaga Nasional Berhad's Subsidiary GSPARX Partners With Central Medicare For 6.039 MWp Rooftop Solar Project

By adopting these considerations, the solar power industry can maintain its competitive advantage while also ensuring long-term viability and profitability. It is crucial to prioritize quality and sustainability over solely reducing tariffs, as this may result in lower returns and project failures in the long run. EDF Renewables ensures that he above considerations are seriously considered as part of the development and delivery phases of the projects since we understand as a group that the long-term life of a PV project is the company’s vision for the viability of a greener future.

– What are some of the most promising innovations and technologies in the utility-scale solar space, and how do you see them impacting the industry?

The solar industry is rapidly evolving with several technologies that are transforming the way solar power plants operate. One interesting technology that is gaining momentum is artificial intelligence (AI). AI-based platforms can predict the underperformance of operating plants with an increasing degree of accuracy by analyzing large amounts of data that cannot be processed by humans or legacy platforms. This technology can help drive efficiency and availability in operating solar power plants through predictive maintenance.

In addition to AI, digitalization platforms are allowing interlinked information flow and visualization, optimizing the efforts of maintenance personnel. However, implementing digitalization platforms will need to be championed as a core requirement within an organization and will require training. Automated design and engineering tools are also supporting the industry, speeding up the design and engineering process while removing the chances of human error. EDF Renewables is an early adopter of AI technologies by having developed our own in-house monitoring & analytics platform called RDL, which is extremely powerful in pinpointing performance indicators through advanced AI algorithms.

The solar industry is also benefiting from automation technologies such as robotic cleaning solutions that can jump from row to row using flexible bridges, allowing for the cleaning of kilometers of PV modules while scanning for other metrics that can be integrated. All equipment is now being integrated into platforms that can amalgamate the data and make sense of the data. Robotic cleaning solutions have been used by EDF Renewables since their early days starting with the MBR Phase III, followed by Al Dhafrah and Jeddah, which have become increasingly smarter, automated, efficient, and require not a drop of water offering sustainability.

Besides the utility-scale space, advancements in solar hybrid and off-grid storage technologies are reducing the reliance on diesel generators in various applications, from construction to remote islands or heavy industries such as quarries. This is greatly reducing the pollution from fossil-based emissions. Additionally, solar plus advancements to storage systems are opening up markets for microgrids, extending access to power for rural communities that do not have access to power due to the grid not being connected to them. This is a significant development as it will greatly improve the lives of people in these communities, who may otherwise depend on inefficient sources of energy for their power needs. The use of solar power can also provide opportunities for economic growth and development in these rural areas. Overall, these technologies have the potential to make a significant positive impact on the world, not only in terms of sustainability but also in terms of social and economic progress. In summary, the solar industry is at the forefront of a transformational period with numerous innovative solutions that are poised to create a more sustainable future for the world. As an active member of the digitalization team within the EDF Renewables Middle East team, I am excited to contribute to this positive change by embracing these technologies, which will help ensure a safe, secure, and sustainable future for all.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.