In early 2019 contracts could be signed for a 1-GW solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant in Kuwait, marking a significant step forward on emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah’s pledge to generate 15% of the country’s energy needs from clean, renewable sources by 2030. While the oil-producing country may wish to play its part in achieving global warming targets, advocates of renewable energy say solar schemes can also help with the export and refining of fossil fuels by providing low-cost energy to oilfields.
In line with the government’s renewable energy goals, completion of the 1-GW Al Dibdibah solar power station is set to generate half of the country’s planned renewable output. The plant will sit on a 3185-ha site at the Shagaya Renewable Energy Park in northern Kuwait where the country’s first 60-MW pilot renewable energy plant already operates. Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC) has tendered the project and is expected to award KD360m ($1.2bn) in contracts to build the plant in 2019. Although KNPC had planned to sign the construction contracts in 2018, delays in the pre-qualification process meant the award date had to be postponed. The plant is expected to replace the need for 5.2m barrels of oil per year while reducing annual carbon emissions by 1.3m tonnes. The completion date is scheduled for 2020.
While the environmental benefits of going green may be clear, there have been critics of plans to produce solar energy in a country with such vast reserves of oil. However, the oil-exporting countries of the GCC would not be the first nations with extensive hydrocarbons reserves to invest in alternative sources of energy generation.
According to the “BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017”, Norway produced 195.4m tonnes of oil or oil equivalent from hydrocarbons in 2016, compared to 167.1m in Kuwait. That same year, two-thirds of Norway’s primary energy consumption was supplied by hydroelectricity, with oil and gas accounting for a respective 21% and 9%. In contrast, 53% of Kuwait’s primary energy consumption was met by oil, with gas making up the remaining 47%.
Those in favour of solar energy development point out that in addition to large-scale solar schemes, smaller rooftop solutions could help government save money by meeting energy needs at the hottest times of day and year, when air conditioning is in greatest demand. The Renewable Energy Development Organisation (REDO), a US-headquartered non-profit, believes the government is taking the proposition seriously. “They understand that if you reduce electricity consumption by 10% per year in every school or government building, the potential to save money and energy across the public sector is significant,” Fadel Jerman, consultant and head of oil and gas for REDO in Kuwait, told OBG.
The country’s first foray into utility-scale solar projects came from Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) in 2016. Sidrah 500 consists of 32,450 solar panels on a 36-ha site. The solar panels can collectively generate 10 MW, which is used to power the 29 electric pumps in the Umm-Gudair oilfield in western Kuwait, in a first for the domestic oil business.
“KOC currently has plans to embrace renewable energy,” Jamal Jaafar, CEO of KOC, told OBG. “This will enable us to create better efficiency and ensure sustainable energy production. Renewable energy drives technological innovation and employment, and will continue to play a key role in helping Kuwait and others meet the energy needs of the future.”
While there have been concerns that dust particles in the air might reduce the effectiveness of PV panels by coating them with a film of dust, scientists operating the Sidrah 500 power plant have placated such concerns. “We were worried about dust, but were delighted to discover that summer humidity and the movement of the panels effectively made them self-cleaning, reducing losses to between 1% and 3%,” Raed Sherif, renewable energy consultant at KOC, told OBG.
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