New solar power projects in Bahrain add to the country's energy mix


In September 2017 Bahrain announced plans to develop a 100-MW high-tech solar power plant in collaboration with the private sector. This is just the latest in a line of developments related to solar power to come out of Bahrain over the last few years, as the kingdom looks to diversify its energy sources. The tender process for the plant was set to begin in the first quarter of 2018, with work expected to be completed and the facility operational by the end of the year.

NEW TARGETS: The announcement came on the back of Bahrain introducing its National Energy Efficiency Action Plan and the National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP) in 2016. The latter aims for renewable energy to account for 5% of the country’s electricity mix by 2025. Bahrain was also one of the 174 countries that signed the Paris Climate Accord in April 2016, and became one of the first to ratify it, in December that year. The NREAP calls for initiatives to place solar panels on rooftops, develop wind-power projects both on land and at sea, as well as requirements to install solar infrastructure on new residential units and renewable-energy requirements for new infrastructure projects such as bridges and railways.

Along with the 5% target for 2025, the renewable energy plan calls for renewable sources to make up 10% of the national feedstock by 2035. In particular, the country is focused on developing solar power, given the high levels of sunlight in the kingdom. Bahrain has some of the highest solar radiation levels in the world, along with good wind speeds. The Gulf Research Centre estimates that the kingdom has the potential to generate around 33 TWh a year from solar power. Bahrain’s Energy and Water Authority (EWA) estimates that the kingdom gets on average 9.2 hours of sunlight a day.

“Not just Bahrain but the whole world is moving towards renewables. Oil resources will only last a certain amount of time, so we need to think of the future generations,” Mohamed Al Qassab, general manager of field operations at Tatweer Petroleum, told OBG. Tatweer built a 1-MW solar plant two years ago, which currently generates around 1.5% of the company’s total power consumption. “We plan to build another plant, 3 MW, and with that we expect to achieve over 5% of our power requirement from solar. Bahrain set a target of 5% renewables by 2025, but we will achieve that by the end of 2018. We like to set an example, and we want to see more expansion of renewables in the kingdom, which will help in diversifying the energy mix and prolong our natural gas reserves,” he added.

SOLAR PARTNERS: In 2014 Bahrain signed an agreement with the UN Development Programme to set up a sustainable energy unit (SEU) tasked with helping to develop a sustainable mix of energy sources to meet current and future power needs. In August 2017 Italian consultancy and engineering services company Centro Elettrotecnico Sperimentale Italiano (CESI) was hired to support the country’s SEU, and help it develop the technical and regulatory requirements necessary for connecting distributed renewable energy into the national electricity grid. The company is set to monitor and control the photovoltaic (PV) generators, as well as provide recommendations on implementing a modified billing invoice procedure. The country is also preparing to introduce net metering technology, which will credit solar energy system owners for the electricity they put into the national grid.

PILOT PROJECT: In 2014 Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco), the National Oil and Gas Authority (NOGA) and US-based Petra Solar completed Bahrain’s first solar power plant, a 5-MW facility that utilises Petra Solar’s smart-grid technology to provide energy to Bapco’s Awali township and the University of Bahrain.

The plant is estimated to deliver in excess of 8000 MWh of energy a year, with an energy offset of around 67bn cu feet of natural gas as well as cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 6900 tonnes a year.

Bahrain is also working on a 5-MW hybrid wind and solar project, which is being implemented by German-based renewable company Juwi International and overseen by global consultancy firm Fichtner. The plant, located in Ad Dur, in the south-east of Bahrain, will produce 3 MW of power from PV panels and 2 MW from wind turbines. Set to be completed in 2018, the pilot project is expected to lay the groundwork for the country’s renewable energy strategy.

According to Yahya bin Yunus, executive managing director of Hidd Power Company, the limited availability of land is one of the main challenges for the development of alternative energies such as solar in the kingdom. “Land is in high demand for a variety of uses from housing to industrial development,” he told OBG.

PRIVATE SECTOR: Bahrain’s target to generate 5% of energy from renewables by 2025 would equal roughly 255 MW of electricity. This offers opportunities for strong private sector involvement. In April 2017 industry media reported that in the previous month Bahrain received visits from representatives of AIG Group, Philips, Capital Impact Partners, Escom and Yellow Door Energy, all of whom came to discuss the possibility of investing in solar energy projects locally. The kingdom also received visits from officials from Spanish solar energy company Abenoga in December 2016.

The NREAP has multiple prongs, one of which is to implement a tender-based feed-in tariff scheme aimed at attracting developers of large-scale renewable energy projects. The scheme, which is yet to be rolled out, will offer competitive procurement processes as well as long-term power-purchase agreements, with decentralised urban generation targeted to bring on-line upward of 150 MW of new installed capacity and large-scale generation reaching 50-100 MW. Key projects call for 50 MW of energy to be generated via decentralised solar at government buildings, along with 30 MW from new housing units through the Ministry of Housing and 10 MW from new town developments.

In September 2017 Bahrain held its first solar energy event, the Solar Technology Energy and Environment Exhibition, organised by the Bahrain Solar Industry Association and showcasing the latest equipment and services in the industry. At the event the SEU said that achieving Bahrain’s 2025 goals for renewable energy production is expected to result in clean energy generation of 480 GWh a year, with an annual savings of BD1.6m ($4.2m), while attracting over BD140m ($371.3m) in new investments.

As rates for electricity and water for commercial usage increased in March 2016 – and will continue rising gradually over the next few years – private companies are also seeing the benefit of going green when it comes to their energy usage. “Companies are more and more open to converting to solar panels, at least to supply their offices with electricity during the day,” Bader Fareed Alsaad, director of industrial areas operations at the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, told OBG. “They are coming with ideas, ways to cut costs. All of these changes in the last few years, including increases in the electricity rates, has made companies realise the importance of revisiting their energy usage plans and trying to reorganise,” he added.

MANUFACTURING: In January 2017 Abdul Hussain bin Ali Mirza, the minister of electricity and water affairs, announced the opening of Bahrain’s first solar-module manufacturing facility, Solar One. The factory, located in Askar, has a capacity to manufacture up to 60,000 solar panels a year, enough to produce 15 MW of power, with subsequent phases expected to increase this significantly. A second phase is expected to boost production to more than 22 MW, enough to power 1500 homes, while a third phase is expected to see the start of production of solar street lighting and other integrated solar solutions. To reach its renewable energy goals, Bahrain is expected to need around 100,000 PV panels a year until 2025, suggesting additional opportunities for producers of solar panels outside of Bahrain.

While the development of renewable energy is still at an early stage in the kingdom, the sector is likely to play a growing role going forward, presenting opportunities for both the public and private sectors, as the kingdom looks to better utilise its available resources and increase its electricity supplies and feedstock.

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