Here comes the sun: Renewable power sources, particularly solar, are promising solutions for the country’s diversification goals

While many members of the GCC have announced high-profile renewable energy projects in recent years, Kuwait has taken comparatively little action to diversify its energy base so far. Its domestic reserves of oil and natural gas could in theory power the country for the next several hundred years. Existing renewable energy technologies are expensive and unreliable by comparison. However, diversification of the economy, rising demand for power, environmental concerns and the high price of oil have all contributed to an increase in investment and development of renewable energy technology, particularly solar.

NEW TARGET: With Kuwait receiving an average of 3347 hours of sunlight a year, or just over nine hours a day, both the public and private sector have been eager to exploit this largely untapped natural resource. Indeed, in October 2011 Eyad Ali Al Falah, the assistant undersecretary for technical services at the Ministry of Electricity and Water (MEW), said in an interview that the country plans to generate 10% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. However, to meet this target – which exceeds the goal of 7% set by Abu Dhabi – the country needs to conduct further research and collect additional information, according to Al Falah, who coordinates alternative energy initiatives for the ministry. “Renewable energy is a new subject for Kuwait,” he said. “That’s why there’s a lack of information regarding the suitability of renewables for our weather.”

Any additional research would supplement the efforts of the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR), which for many years has led renewable energy research in the country. Initially established in 1967 by the Arabian Oil Company, KISR was later reorganised and became an independent public institution in 1978. Its objectives include conducting applied scientific research that helps the advancement of national industry and undertaking studies relating to the preservation of the environment, resources of natural wealth and their discovery, sources of water and energy, methods of agricultural exploitation and promotion of water wealth.

In February 2011 KISR announced that it had signed a cooperation agreement with the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ERCN) for advice and support in setting up a facility that can be used to test photovoltaic systems, including panels and accompanying electronics. As part of the agreement, the ERCN will provide training to staff at KISR, MEW and the Ministry of Education. The ERCN and KISR will also together develop a roadmap for sustainable energy.

PHOTOVOLTAIC INSTALLATIONS: In addition to providing support to KISR, the government has also taken more direct steps to increase the use of solar power, including plans by MEW to install photovoltaic panels to supply electricity to its headquarters and the Ministry of Public Works. The project will produce about 1 MW of electricity, which will be used to power lights and other utilities, though not air conditioning. If the installation is successful, MEW will move to put similar panels on the roofs of all government buildings, according to Fadhil Safar, the minister of public works and state minister for municipal affairs, speaking at a renewable energy workshop in late 2010.

PLANT PLANS: On a much larger scale, it was reported in mid-2010 that Kuwait is planning to build one of the largest solar energy plants in the world. Expected to cost $650m, the 1250-MW plant will be built in the area around Al Abdali in eastern Kuwait. Japan’s T Suchu Corporation signed an agreement with MEW in 2008 to provide assistance to ministries and authorities that are working on projects being carried out by the private sector. However, challenges to building large solar developments remain. The amount of ambient dust in the region has proved troublesome, as photovoltaic panels require frequent washing to perform well.

While it may seem gratuitous for a major oil exporter to invest in solar power, the potential of this energy source to reduce peak load requirements during the summer is considerable. For this reason, solar power is likely to play a growing role in the energy mix of Kuwait, as well as in other GCC states, in the medium term.

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The Report: Kuwait 2012

Energy chapter from The Report: Kuwait 2012

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