MENA sees future in new clean energy technology

The region likely to receive up to $1 trillion in alternative energy investment by 2023.
Tuesday 16/06/2020
An aerial view of the solar mirrors at the Noor 1 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, some 20km (12.5 miles) outside the central Moroccan town of Ouarzazate. (AFP)
An aerial view of the solar mirrors at the Noor 1 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) plant, some 20km (12.5 miles) outside the central Moroccan town of Ouarzazate. (AFP)

LONDON - Following the 2016 Paris climate accord, which 194 states and the European Union have signed onto, efforts to achieve a low-carbon world are slowly being realised. As a result of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s renewable capacity growth beginning in 2018, this part of the world could emerge as a pioneer of new clean energy technology.

The Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA) estimates that between 2019 and 2023, MENA will receive up to $1 trillion in alternative energy investment, as innovators look for sources that are both efficient and environmentally conscious.

Saudi Arabia’s energy consumption is estimated to increase threefold by 2030. Planning ahead, the Saudi government has set goals to localise a significant portion of its energy value chain, with a special focus on manufacturing, research and development and renewables, as well as setting ambitious clean energy targets for 2024 and 2030.

The UAE, meanwhile, has set a long-term target for 2050 to decrease its carbon footprint in power generation by 70% and increase its share of clean energy by 50%. It also aims to invest 600 billion dirham ($163.3 billion) to ensure sustainable growth for the country’s economy and to meet its growing energy demands.

Dubai aims to focus on green cities, green technology, green energy and green investment, including by diversifying its electricity generation mix. It hopes to see clean energy comprise 25% of its energy mix by 2030 and 75% by 2050.

Other MENA countries, such as Yemen, Egypt, Oman, Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan and Morocco are also hoping to up their share of renewable energy in the near future.

But there are challenges for these countries to quickly make the transition to renewable energy. This is where the use of natural gas can be a pivotal addition, helping fill in energy gaps while offering support to environment and climate protection agendas. One example is modern gas turbines that yield low nitrogen and sulphur oxides and carbon dioxide at the same time, producing record levels of power generation efficiency. In a Middle Eastern region rich in natural gas, this is a variable tactic to employ.

Hydrogen's use in electricity generation emits no CO2, but only water vapour, making it another important factor in the energy production landscape. It can also assist in the de-carbonisation of traditional gas-fired power plants, in which turbines are adjusted to burn hydrogen mixed with gas. The end goal of this process is achieving 100% hydrogen fuel gas composition using existing gas-turbine technology with minimal modification.

The Advanced Clean Energy Storage (Aces) Project is the earth’s biggest renewable energy storage project. It aims to use excess electricity from renewables to create green hydrogen and develop 1,000MW of clean-energy storage.  One company involved in the project, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS), anticipates that the initial hydrogen storage capacity will be able to serve up to 150,000 homes’ needs by 2025.

MHPS, which develops special fuel for its gas turbines, is now working on a project based in the Netherlands. It aims to enter 2025 with a 100% hydrogen-fired plant, having transformed a 440MW gas turbine.

In the coming years, MENA’s standing in the gas turbine market is expected to grow significantly as it shifts toward a more environmentally friendly and efficient energy mix while energy demand increases. These new forms of technology can complement the region’s growth while assisting power producers and governments attain more sustainable and energy efficient results.

A combination of renewable and other clean-energy sources mixed with fossil based is the future of power generation. Their continued co-existence will lead to growth in the grid’s complexity and thus a need for intelligent solutions.

April 2020 marked MHPS’s commission of T-Point 2, a new gas turbine combined-cycle that is expected to achieve over 566MW of energy at 99.5% reliability and nearly 64% efficiency. This turbine features the Tomoni, the suite of intelligent digital solutions used by MHPS.

Machine learning when combined with data collection, metering and analytics via connected smart power networks will help overcome existing weaknesses in renewables. Its systems will be optimised and become more stable, reliable and resilient due to the advantages of previous generational technologies. As this happens, machines will develop the ability to automatically supplement the energy supply if it is lacking due to insufficient wind or sun, as well as divert excess power into the markets during strong generation conditions.

MENA is an ideal location for such an energy mix due to countries’ strong backing for technology innovation and energy space investments, optimal weather conditions for energy generation and access to the world’ largest gas reserve.