Renewable energy solutions in Qatar are set to advance significantly in 2019 as international bidders vie for the opportunity to build the country’s first utility-scale solar energy facility. This follows the acknowledgement over a decade ago that renewables have the potential to add economic value by diversifying energy sources, freeing up natural gas for export and helping to decrease carbon emissions.
In October 2018 Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation, also known as Kahramaa, announced it had pre-qualified 16 international power firms for a 500-MW photovoltaic (PV) solar plant located in Al Kharsaah, west of Doha. “Qatar has an abundance of solar radiation,” Essa bin Hilal Al Kuwari, president of Kahramaa, said in a press release published in October 2018. “Kahramaa decided to go forward with the utility-scale solar power plant after monitoring the recent developments in solar panel manufacturing, along with their decreasing costs, and after studying the amount of natural gas that could potentially be saved.”
The 16 pre-qualified international companies include Japan’s Itochu, Marubeni, Sojitz, Mitsui and Mitsubishi; South Korea’s Hanwha Q Cells and Korea Electric Power; China’s JinkoSolar and Power Construction; Hong Kong’s CGL-Poly; Spain’s X-Elio; Turkey’s Zorlu Enerji; Germany’s Innogy; Italy’s Enel; and France’s Engie and Total.
A request for tenders was expected to follow the pre-qualification round, with the winning bid due to be announced by the end of 2018; however, no update had been released as of February 2019.
In the first phase of operations the company aims to connect a solar plant with an installed capacity of 350 MW to the grid by 2020. The Ministry of Municipality and Environment allocated a 10-sq-km plot of land in Al Kharsaah for the facility, with the site capable of accommodating up to 700 MW of PV generation. The project will be conceived under the public-private partnership framework on a build-own-operate-transfer basis for a period of 25 years, after which ownership of the facility will be transferred to Kahramaa.
Strategic National Investor
The solar project marks a new role for the two most significant Qatari players in the power generation sector: Qatar Electricity and Water Company (QEWC) and Qatar Petroleum (QP). In April 2017 QEWC and QP formed a new joint venture, Siraj Power, holding 60% and 40% shares, respectively. With capital of $500m, the new entity aims to install 500 MW of capacity from solar power by 2020. Kahramaa described the role of Siraj Power in the Al Kharsaah solar project as a strategic national investor, which aligns with the positions QEWC and QP have played in existing independent water and power producers (IWPPs). Both companies have stakes in every IWPP in the country except Qatar Power Company, in which QP does not own any shares.
Qatar has been examining the potential of renewables in its energy mix for over a decade. Launched in October 2008, the long-term economic development plan, Qatar National Vision 2030, prioritises environmental protection alongside the need to harness and optimise the country’s abundant hydrocarbons reserves.
The first National Development Strategy (NDS) for the years from 2011 to 2016 noted that renewables could play an important economic and environmental role in the energy mix as soon as technologies become cost-efficient. The strategy suggested a committee be established with the ministry of state for energy affairs to assess the potential benefits of renewable energy. The National Renewable Energy Committee is currently drafting a national policy for the development of renewable energy.
In the second NDS, which covers the period between 2018 and 2022, the topic of alternative energy sources was also addressed. According to the strategy document, limited progress in renewable power generation had been made. It added that renewable energy as a share of total energy in the country was negligible even though there is great potential for alternative power solutions.
Although the new Kahramaa power station marks the first step towards solar energy on a large scale, public bodies and private companies have been investing in research and pilot projects in the renewables sector for some time. In 2009 US oil company Chevron invested $20m over five years in the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), which focuses on renewable power and energy efficiency. Research at the centre is focused on developing renewable energy technologies that would work most efficiently in Qatar.
In 2012 Chevron and GreenGulf, a Qatari advisor in clean technology and renewable energy, officially inaugurated a solar testing facility at the QSTP. The 35,000-sq-metre station acts as a site where emerging solar technologies can be tested as well as an educational facility for students from Qatar University and Qatar Foundation, a non-profit organisation founded in 1995. The opening of the testing facility coincided with Qatar’s hosting of COP18, the 18th UN Climate Change Conference, in Doha.
Qatar Foundation has also taken a leading role in the research and testing of renewable energy solutions. In 2014 it completed the installation of 13,000 solar panels with a combined capacity of 1.9 MW at Education City. It established the Energy Monitoring Centre to measure smart grid performance and provide data for researchers. At the time Qatar Foundation was producing 85% of Qatar’s total solar energy production, and hoped to see a capacity of 1.8 GW of solar power across the country by 2020.
A Qatar Foundation entity under the umbrella of Hamad bin Khalifa University, the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI), has also played a vital role in examining the potential of renewable energy. Founded in 2011, QEERI currently administers the solar testing facility at QSTP. In August 2018 the institute launched the QEERI Solar Consortium programme, which aims to demonstrate the use of solar technologies in desert climates. Members of the consortium include engineers, researchers and local authorities.
“There are many challenges that are specific to Qatar, such as the desert climate, which is characterised by extreme temperature, specific dust and atmospheric features including soiling,” Veronica Bermudez Benito, chairperson of Solar Consortium and senior research director for energy at QEERI, said at the programme’s launch. “Building a solid understanding of the reliability and degradation pathways is a key component for the future economic competitiveness of solar technologies.”
Solar Value Chain
In addition to investing in solar technology for power generation, Qatar is manufacturing a key component used in making PV panels. Qatar Solar Technologies (QST ec) operates a polysilicon factory in Ras Laffan Industrial City, which has an annual production capacity of 8500 tonnes. Polysilicon is the key ingredient used in 95% of the world’s solar panels. The factory began production in March 2017, and there are plans to increase capacity to 50,000 tonnes per annum over a number of phases. QST ec is a joint venture between Qatar Foundation subsidiary Qatar Solar, Qatar Development Bank and Germany’s SolarWorld.
Domestic & Foreign Investment
Domestically, QST ec has invested in solar technology at its Qatar factory, which has an installed capacity of 1.1 MW of solar power, including an energy farm featuring 4000 panels, in addition to panels on rooftops and car parking shades. Internationally, QST ec is the largest private equity holder in SolarWorld, the largest integrated solar module manufacturer in and Europe and the US, and it has acquired a 45% stake in Centrotherm, a Germany company supplying solar and semi-conductor technology.
Nebras Power, a QEWC subsidiary focused on international power generation projects, also has a significant interest in renewable energy. Among its many assets, Nebras Power owns a 24% stake in a 40-MW solar power project being developed in Jordan, for which Nebras Power signed a power-purchase agreement with the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources of Jordan in April 2017. The renewable energy facility is expected to commence commercial operations in June 2019.
In September 2018 Nebras Power Investment Management, a Dutch affiliate of Nebras Power, signed an agreement to acquire a 75% equity stake in Zon Exploitatie Nederland (ZEN), a developer and operator of large-scale solar power systems based in Delft. ZEN has a combined 96 MW of solar power projects in operation, under construction or planned, and the company also develops rooftop PV projects.