While Bahrain’s oil industry still plays a major role in the economy, the government has recognised the importance of building up other sectors and first initiated a diversification strategy several decades ago after a period of peak oil production. More recently the government has also emphasised the need to develop alternative energy sources. This approach should facilitate economic diversification and help to secure future energy needs. Alternative fuels, such as renewables, will also aid a reduction in pollution in the country.

Bahrain currently relies heavily on fossil fuels. Local power generation, for example, runs entirely on natural gas. Five power plants are in operation at present, and the kingdom’s Electricity and Water Authority (EWA) reported that peak electricity demand was 2967 MW in 2012. A new power facility, the Al Dur Power and Water Plant, was recently commissioned. Offering 1234 MW of generation capacity, the privately owned project is powered entirely by gas, according to the facility’s owner, Al Dur Power and Water Company.

POWERING INDUSTRY: Hydrocarbons also fuel the kingdom’s primary industries: refining and aluminium smelting. According to a study published in 2012 by the Gulf Research Centre (GRC), an independent, non-profit research institute, refining activities and oil production make up over 60% of Bahrain’s exports as well as 70% of government revenue. Aluminium smelting is an energy-intensive industry and one of the world’s largest smelters is located in Bahrain. Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) maintains its own gas-fired power plant, which provides a generation capacity of 2200 MW. EWA noted that Alba accounted for nearly a quarter of gas consumption in 2011. The Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO), the owner and operator of the country’s oil refinery, represented 9% of gas consumption over the same year.

NATURAL GAS: Despite a cut in subsidies, gas remains an inexpensive source of energy in Bahrain and costs $2.50 per million British thermal units (BTUs). By comparison, Americans pay $3.15 per million BTUs for natural gas, while in the UK it is $10.30 per million BTUs and in Japan $17.30 per million BTUs. Hydrocarbons are also in good supply in the kingdom.

Notwithstanding diminishing reserves, local production of natural gas continues to go up. According to Tatweer Petroleum, the company in charge of producing crude oil at the Bahrain Field, average available capacity of non-associated gas rose from 42.5m cu metres per day (cmd) in 2010 to 53.8m cmd in 2011. In addition, California-based Occidental Petroleum Company has already begun work on exploring for deep gas in the kingdom. The firm aims to begin drilling in mid-2013, with the first stage of the project scheduled to finish before the end of 2015. The planned construction of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal should also help to secure a stable supply. As per figures from BAPCO, the LNG terminal should be completed within two years once construction begins.

CHANGING THE MIX: While the path to increasing renewable energy capacity faces some obstacles, studies have shown that the kingdom has the potential to harness energy from both solar and wind sources.

Bahrain’s climate makes the country particularly well suited to capture solar power through photovoltaic (PV) panels and thermal heating and cooling equipment. A study in 2011 by the Bahrain-based Arab Cable Manufacturers Association (ACMA) indicated that solar radiation in the kingdom – as well as the other GCC states – reaches levels of 7.2 KWh per sq metre in the summer months. Annual mean radiation is 5.2 KWh per sq metre. Although solar collection may be much less than this, solar energy could be used in the country to provide small to medium-sized power generation.

Bahrain also has the potential to harness wind energy. The 2011 ACMA report noted that average wind speed in the kingdom ranges from between 4 and 5.5 metres per second. Further, the study indicated that 225 watts per sq metre of power distributed over 24 hours could be generated on a windy day. According to the GRC, the highest wind density can be found on the southern and central parts of the main island.

NEW BODIES: The government has set up a committee at the national level with the responsibility of identifying practicable local renewable energy projects, including experts from BAPCO, Alba, EWA, the Ministry of Industry, the University of Bahrain (UoB) and the National Oil & Gas Authority (NOGA), which is in charge of the organisation, development and supervision of Bahrain’s energy sector as well as associated industries.

The EWA has reported that two renewable energy projects have been selected and are currently under implementation. One focuses exclusively on solar power and is a joint venture between BAPCO, NOGA and two US-based firms, Caspian Energy Holdings and Petra Solar. With total investment set to reach $26m, the solar project is a first for BAPCO and includes involvement from several government bodies. The project was launched in 2012 and will provide 5 MW of energy through PV solar panels, according to BAPCO figures.

SOLAR: Solar panels will be located in at least two locations: the UoB campus and the BAPCO-founded township of Awali, which is located in the centre of the kingdom. The UoB campus installation will provide key opportunities for students and faculty to study solar energy. Petra Solar will carry out the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract, and with installation already begun, BAPCO has stated that the project should be finished by late 2013. And while it is unlikely to supply a lot of power or deliver energy at as low a cost as other sources such as natural gas, the project should provide a blueprint for further renewable energy projects. It could ultimately lead to a rise in solar projects across the kingdom, said Petra Solar.

FURTHER INITIATIVES: The second renewable energy initiative in Bahrain focuses on a combination of solar and wind power. Announced in October 2012, the project involves constructing a solar-wind power plant adjacent to the Al Dur independent water and power project, which is located on the south-east coast. The facility will operate with a combined power generation capacity of 5 MW. The EWA has reported that 3 MW of the total will come from solar energy, with the remaining 2 MW from wind. A plot of land measuring roughly 12 ha has been selected for the facility, and Germany’s Fichtner, an engineering and consulting firm, has been chosen to conduct the relevant feasibility and project engineering studies. The EPC contract is tentatively scheduled to be awarded sometime in 2013.

The UoB’s engineering faculty has also carried out several research projects, one of which is focused on designing and building a mobile water desalination unit capable of supplying 250 gallons of water. The device is powered by 1.5 KW of PV solar panels. Faculty at UoB also partnered the locally based Long International to create a power generation system, which employed a 100-watt wind turbine and 1.9 KW of PV solar panelling, according to the GRC. Most notably, however, has been the incorporation of wind power in the design of the Bahrain World Trade Centre that was completed 2008 and contains three parallel wind turbines, with a generated a combined output of 0.66 MW, or 11% to 15% of the building’s total power needs.