Sustainable Solar Energy Growth in the MENA Region: A Candid Conversation with Marcelle Combrink, General Manager of MENA Region – Menlo Electric

Marcelle Combrink, General Manager of Menlo Electric - MENA Region

1. In terms of size and growth what is the current state of solar market when compared with the other countries in the MENA region?


The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has experienced significant growth in the solar market in recent years, with several countries making significant strides   in solar energy deployment. While it’s difficult to provide an exhaustive comparison across all countries in the region, here’s a general overview:


a. United Arab Emirates (UAE): The UAE has emerged as a leader in the MENA region’s solar market. It is home to large-scale solar projects, including the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, one of the world’s largest solar parks with a capacity of 5,000 MW.


b. Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia has set ambitious renewable energy targets, aiming to install 58.7 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030, with a significant focus on solar power. The kingdom has launched various projects, including the Sakaka and Dumat Al Jandal solar power plants.

c. Morocco: Morocco has made substantial progress in solar energy, primarily with the Noor-Ouarzazate Solar Complex. It is one of the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) projects, providing both energy security and renewable energy generation.

d. Egypt: Egypt has been actively promoting solar energy and developing large-scale projects, such as the Benban Solar Park, which aims to have a capacity of 1.8 GW when completed. Egypt also introduced new regulations and feed-in tariffs to attract investment in the sector.

e. Jordan: Jordan has made significant efforts in harnessing solar energy. It has implemented various projects, including the Shams Ma’an Solar Power Plant, which has a capacity of 52 MW.  

It’s important to note that other countries in the MENA region, such as Tunisia, Algeria, and Kuwait, are also exploring and developing solar energy projects, albeit at  a comparatively smaller scale.

In terms of size and growth, the solar market in the MENA region has been  expanding, thanks to favourable solar resources, declining costs of solar technologies, and increasing government support for renewable energy. However, the specific ranking of countries may vary depending on factors such as installed capacity, policy  frameworks, and future plans for solar energy development.

2. Can you elaborate some of the remarkable large-scale solar projects in UAE, and what impact have they had on the local energy landscape?

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has embarked on several remarkable large-scale solar projects that have had a profound impact on the local energy landscape. Here are some notable examples:

One such project is the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai. It stands as one of the world’s largest renewable energy ventures, with a target of 5,000 megawatts (MW) capacity by 2030. The park incorporates various phases, employing photovoltaic (PV), concentrated solar power (CSP) towers, and solar tracking systems. This initiative diversifies the UAE’s energy mix and reduces dependence on fossil fuels.

Another significant project is the Sweihan Solar Power Plant located in Abu Dhabi. It ranks among the largest operational photovoltaic (PV) solar plants globally, boasting a capacity of 1,177 MW. Spanning around 7.8 square kilometers, it comprises over 3.2 million solar panels. The Sweihan Solar Power Plant plays a crucial role in helping the UAE achieve its renewable energy targets and contributes to carbon emissions reduction.

The Noor Abu Dhabi Solar Plant, also known as the Sweihan Solar Park, is a noteworthy solar venture in Abu Dhabi. With a capacity of 1,177 MW, it stands as one of the world’s largest single-site solar projects. The facility generates clean energy equivalent to powering around 90,000 households, reducing reliance on conventional power sources.

The impact of these large-scale solar projects on the local energy landscape is significant for the following reasons.

  • Enhanced Renewable Energy Capacity: The projects have substantially increased the UAE’s renewable energy capacity, diversified its energy mix reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
  • Energy Security: By reducing the reliance on imported fossil fuels, the solar projects enhance the UAE’s energy security. Local renewable energy generation bolsters the resilience of the energy sector and reduces vulnerability to fluctuations in international fuel markets.
  • Sustainability and Emissions Reduction: These initiatives contribute to greenhouse gas emissions reduction, aligning with the UAE’s commitments to combat climate change. The projects promote clean energy alternatives and foster a more sustainable energy landscape.
  • Economic Growth and Job Creation: The development of large-scale solar projects stimulates economic growth by attracting investments, promoting technology transfer, and fostering innovation in the clean energy sector. It also creates employment opportunities, generating new jobs and driving economic diversification.
Also Read  Pioneering HJT Solar Technology: A Conversation with Abhishek Kaushal, Director for South Asia at Huasun Energy

In conclusion, the remarkable large-scale solar projects in the UAE have played a transformative role in the local energy landscape. They have bolstered renewable energy capacity, enhanced energy security, reduce emissions, and spurred economic development in the clean energy sector.

Are there plans for further expansion of large-scale solar installations in the country?

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has demonstrated a strong commitment to expanding large-scale solar installations, indicating plans for further expansion in the future.

The UAE has set ambitious renewable energy targets, such as the Energy Strategy 2050, which aims to increase the share of clean energy in the country’s energy mix to 50% by 2050.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai has plans to reach a capacity of 5,000 MW by 2030. This indicates a clear intention to expand solar installations within the park.

Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, has a target of achieving 50% clean energy by 2030. Abu Dhabi has plans to expand its solar energy capacity through projects like the Noor Abu Dhabi Solar Plant.

These commitments and projects suggest that the UAE is dedicated to growing its solar capacity and further integrating large-scale solar installations into its energy landscape.

Expanding solar installations helps the UAE diversify its energy sources, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, enhance energy security, and contribute to  global sustainability efforts.

The UAE’s continued efforts, in line with declining solar technology costs and increasing international focus on clean energy, point to a future of ongoing expansion in large-scale solar installations.

3. What are the key factors driving the growth of solar energy in Saudi Arabia?

The growth of solar energy in Saudi Arabia is driven by several key factors:

Abundance of sunlight: Saudi Arabia benefits from high solar irradiance, receiving ample sunlight throughout the year. This abundant natural resource is a crucial factor in promoting the growth of solar energy in the country.

Energy diversification and economic goals: Recognizing the need to diversify its energy sources beyond oil and gas, Saudi Arabia aims to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels and capitalize on renewable energy to meet its increasing energy demands. This focus on energy diversification aligns with the country’s broader economic goals, promoting economic diversification through the development of the solar industry.

Decreasing costs: The cost of solar energy has been consistently decreasing globally, making it more economically competitive with traditional energy sources. Saudi Arabia has also experienced a significant reduction in the cost of solar projects, making them increasingly financially viable and attractive for investments.

Government support and policies: To facilitate the growth of renewable energy, including solar power, the Saudi Arabian government has implemented various policies and initiatives. These measures include the introduction of feed-in tariffs, long-term power purchase agreements, and the establishment of regulatory frameworks that encourage private investments in renewable energy projects.

Vision 2030: Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategic plan aims to diversify the economy, promote sustainability, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As part of this vision, the country has set a target to generate more than 50% of its electricity from renewable sources, including solar energy, by 2030.

International cooperation and partnerships: Saudi Arabia has actively engaged in collaborations and partnerships with international entities and organizations to support the development of its solar energy sector. These collaborations bring technical expertise, knowledge transfer, and financial support, thereby accelerating the growth of solar power in the country.

Employment and job creation: The development of the solar industry presents opportunities for job creation and employment in Saudi Arabia. The growth of solar energy projects is expected to contribute to the formation of a skilled workforce in the renewable energy sector, aligning with the country’s employment goals.

Overall, the confluence of favorable natural conditions, government support, decreasing costs, and long-term strategic objectives has propelled the significant growth of solar energy in Saudi Arabia.

4. How are communities and industries in Jordan embracing solar energy, and what efforts have been made to facilitate its adoption at these levels?

Communities and industries in Jordan have made significant efforts to embrace solar energy, recognizing its potential for sustainable and clean energy generation. Here    are some ways in which solar energy adoption has been facilitated at the community and industry levels:

Government initiatives: The Jordanian government has implemented several policies  and incentives to promote solar energy adoption. These include feed-in tariffs and   power purchase agreements that provide financial incentives for individuals and businesses to invest in solar energy infrastructure.

Also Read  INVTSolar Entered into a Cooperation with Indian Renowned Solar Company

Solar power projects: Many communities and industries in Jordan have implemented large-scale solar power projects. For example, the Shams Ma’an Solar Power Plant, one of the largest in the Middle East, provides electricity to thousands of homes and businesses. These projects help increase the overall supply of solar energy in the  country.

Net metering: Jordan has implemented net metering policies, allowing residential and commercial solar energy system owners to sell excess electricity back to the grid. This encourages individuals and businesses to install solar panels, as they can benefit financially by offsetting their electricity costs.

International partnerships and funding: Jordan has partnered with international  organizations and received funding for solar energy projects. For instance, the  country has collaborated with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to develop and finance renewable energy projects, including  solar projects.

Education and awareness programs: Various educational and awareness programs have been initiated to promote solar energy adoption in Jordanian communities and  industries. These programs aim to educate people about the benefits of solar energy, encourage them to switch to solar power, and provide information on  available incentives and financing options.

Local projects and initiatives: Local communities and organizations in Jordan have taken the initiative to embrace solar energy. For instance, there are solar-powered water pumping systems in rural areas, helping provide clean and sustainable water  access to communities.

Overall, Jordan has shown commitment to embracing solar energy at the community and industry levels. Its government initiatives, large-scale solar power projects, net metering policies, international partnerships and funding, education and awareness  programs, and local projects have all contributed to the advancement of solar energy adoption in the country.

5. Can you describe the regulatory framework for solar energy projects in Iraq, and how it impacts the ease of doing business in the sector?

The regulatory framework for solar energy projects in Iraq is primarily governed by national laws and regulations, as well as policies set by the Ministry of Electricity and relevant government entities. The legal and regulatory framework for renewable energy, including solar energy, is still evolving in Iraq.

Developers of solar energy projects in Iraq may be required to obtain various licenses and permits at the national or local level, which can involve navigating through administrative procedures. These requirements can impact the ease of doing business in the sector.

Grid connection is an important aspect of solar energy project development. The regulatory framework in Iraq establishes the requirements, procedures, and technical standards for connecting solar projects to the electricity grid. This aspect can impact the feasibility and ease of integrating solar energy into the existing infrastructure.

Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) govern the sale of electricity generated by solar energy projects. The regulatory framework outlines the terms, conditions, and pricing mechanisms for these agreements, which can affect the financial viability and attractiveness of solar energy investments.

Incentives and support mechanisms play a role in the regulatory framework. Iraq’s regulations may determine the availability of feed-in tariffs, tax exemptions, grants, or other financial incentives to support solar energy projects. These incentives can enhance the ease of doing business and make solar projects more economically feasible.

A stable and predictable regulatory environment is important for attracting  investments in the solar sector. Clear, transparent, and consistent regulations provide certainty to investors, reduce risks, and facilitate project development. This stability has implications for the ease of doing business in the solar energy sector.

6. What were the challenges faced by the countries in MENA region while developing their solar energy sectors and how were these addressed?

Developing the solar energy sector in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) has posed several challenges. However, numerous steps have been taken to address these obstacles.

One significant challenge has been the high upfront costs associated with solar energy projects. To tackle this, many countries in the region have established favorable regulatory frameworks to attract public and private partnerships, foreign investments, and financing options. These measures help reduce the burden on national budgets and facilitate project development.

Another challenge has been the limited technical expertise in the region. To overcome this, countries have initiated capacity-building programs, collaborations with international organizations, and partnerships with experienced solar energy companies. Such initiatives aim to transfer knowledge and build local expertise through training and education programs.

Also Read  Revolutionizing Renewable Energy Funding: Egypt's NWFE Programme's Quest For Innovative Financing

The MENA region has faced political and social unrest in various areas, which can hinder the development of solar energy sectors. To address this, stability and security measures have been implemented, along with investments in renewable energy infrastructure, creating an environment conducive to sustainable energy projects.

Developing a robust energy infrastructure is crucial for a well-functioning solar sector. In response to this challenge, governments have invested in building and upgrading transmission and grid networks to support the integration of solar energy into existing systems. This includes expanding interconnections within and between countries to enable energy sharing and promote market efficiency.

Climate variability, including arid climates and varying weather patterns, poses challenges for solar energy generation in the region. To mitigate this, advanced monitoring systems and maintenance plans have been implemented to ensure optimal performance of solar installations under challenging weather conditions like dust storms and sandstorms.

In areas where solar thermal technologies such as concentrated solar power (CSP) are used, limited water resources can be a challenge. To address this, various countries have explored innovative cooling technologies that reduce water consumption, such as dry cooling systems, thereby increasing the efficiency of CSP plants.

Integrating solar energy into existing energy systems can present technical and logistical challenges. To overcome this, countries in the MENA region have actively collaborated on regional energy plans, interconnecting power grids, and promoting cross-border electricity trade. This collaboration helps balance renewable energy intermittency and optimize the use of available solar resources across the region.

Overall, addressing these challenges required a comprehensive and coordinated approach involving policy reforms, investments in infrastructure, knowledge transfer, and international collaborations. By implementing such measures, countries in the MENA region have made significant progress in the development of their solar energy sectors, positioning themselves as global leaders in renewable energy.

7. What sources of funding and investment opportunities are available for solar projects across the MENA region?

Here are some sources of funding and investment opportunities available for solar projects across the MENA region:

1. Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs): Organizations like the World Bank, African Development Bank, and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development provide funding and support for renewable energy projects, including solar initiatives in the MENA region.

2. Government Grants and Incentives: Many countries in the MENA region offer grants, subsidies, tax incentives, and feed-in tariffs to promote solar energy development. These can help offset costs and make solar projects more financially viable.

3. Development Finance Institutions (DFIs): DFIs, such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC), provide investment and financing for sustainable energy projects. They often have specific programs and funds dedicated to renewable energy initiatives, including solar.

4. Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs): Governments in the MENA region often collaborate with private sector investors through PPPs to develop solar projects. These partnerships can provide a combination of funding, expertise, and resources to support renewable energy initiatives.

5. Venture Capital and Private Equity: Private investors, venture capital firms, and private equity funds may be interested in financing solar projects in the MENA region. These investors seek promising renewable energy ventures with a strong potential for growth and returns.

6. Green Bonds: Issuing green bonds can be an effective way to raise capital for solar projects in the MENA region. These bonds are specifically designed to finance environmentally friendly initiatives, and investors looking for sustainable investment opportunities may be interested in participating.

7. Crowdfunding: Crowdfunding platforms can provide an alternative method of raising funds for solar projects. Individuals and organizations interested in supporting renewable energy development in the MENA region can contribute to such initiatives through crowdfunding campaigns.

8. Regional Funds and Initiatives: Collaborative regional efforts like the Arab Renewable Energy Initiative or the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development offer funding and support specifically for renewable energy projects in the MENA region.

Leave a Reply

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