With a target of producing 20% of its electricity using solar energy by 2030, a series of public and private investments are driving new developments in Qatar’s solar energy sector.
Production begins at major solar plant
At the end of March, Qatar Solar Technologies (QSTec) – a joint venture (JV) between Qatar Solar (a subsidiary of Qatar Foundation), Germany’s SolarWorld AG and Qatar Development Bank – announced that the first polysilicon had been produced at its new production plant in Ras Laffan Industrial City, 80 km north of Doha. Polysilicon is a high-purity form of silicon and a key component in a range of solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies.
The factory, which is currently in the final stages of being commissioned, will have an annual production capacity of 8000 tonnes and is expected to start exporting later this year.
Speaking to OBG, Khalid Klefeekh Al Hajri, chairman and CEO of QSTec, said that the plant’s polysilicon would initially be for export to meet global demand for high-purity, Tier 1 polysilicon.
Al Hajri went on to say that he sees the facility’s initial production capacity as just the first phase and expects it to move up to as much as 50,0000 tonnes per annum over time.
The plant has also been designed with sustainability in mind, possessing 1.1 MW of solar generation capacity and waste treatment facilities to recycle excess gases and water.
“I am very positive about the growth potential of solar energy and research in Qatar and across the MENA region. We have the perfect climatic conditions, and the government has shown the will to diversify its energy mix ,” Al Hajri told OBG.
The projected increase in polysilicon output over time is likely to be matched by growing demand for PV technology. According to the latest “Global Power Industry Outlook” from research consultancy Frost & Sullivan, solar photovoltaic will be the energy sector’s highest growth area this year, with investment forecast to increase by 11.5% to €141.6bn.
The MENA region is itself a strong market for PV products, where increased awareness of the need to diversify the energy mix prompted investments in solar projects to grow from $160m in 2010 to $3.5bn in 2015.
Qatar will be looking to maintain this momentum in renewable power generation as it continues to pursue its long-term strategy plan, Qatar National Vision 2030, which aims to fill an expected growth in power demand while simultaneously increasing the sustainability of the country’s energy mix.
Between 2006 and 2016, power and water consumption recorded average growth rates of 10.4% and 7.7% a year, respectively, according to data released by Qatar Electricity and Water Company (Kahramaa), the country’s main utilities regulator.
Furthermore, research conducted last year by the Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation shows that Qatar will need to attract $9bn in its power sector between 2016 and 2020 to keep pace with electricity demands.
One upcoming project that is set to fulfil part of this need is a 200-MW solar power plant being developed by Siraj Power – a JV between Kahramaa and Qatar Petroleum, which has provided $500m in start-up capital for the project.
Construction of the facility is scheduled to start in June, with plans already in place to expand the project’s capacity to 500 MW in the future.
Continuing to attract investments of this scale should not pose too difficult an obstacle, as Qatar’s location is ideal for future solar projects. According to the Climate Technology Centre and Network, the annual solar energy potential of each square kilometre of Qatari soil is equivalent to 1.5m barrels of oil.
Qatar has also been encouraging the use of solar technology in the urban environment.
Several large-scale developments are deploying rooftop solar installations as part of their energy infrastructure, including Mshereib Downtown Doha, a sustainable downtown regeneration project; Lusail City, a planned city on the coast north of Doha; and Energy City, an integrated energy hub being built between Lusail City and the capital.
Five of the FIFA 2022 World Cup stadiums are also slated to use pioneering solar-powered cooling technology.
Speaking to media in July last year, Khalid Al Subai, acting executive director of the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute, underlined the potential for rooftop solar solutions in Qatar, with electricity demand closely tracking solar intensity during the hottest months of the year.
“Thus, rooftop solar becomes very cost effective in lowering peak electricity demand, which is very important to Qatar’s utilities,” he said.