The launch of the Shams 1 power plant is big news in clean energy, and a major hallmark on the Middle East’s path towards energy diversification. Electricity from the power plant is competitively sold at market price to the grid, and is projected to reduce CO2 emissions 175,000 tons/year – the equivalent to planting 1.5 million trees or taking 15,000 Abu Dhabi cars off the streets. And this project is not a one-off. The country is also preparing for the construction of the 100 megawatt Nour 1 photovoltaic power plant to accompany it.
Other oil-producing Middle Eastern nations aren’t far behind Abu Dhabi. Qatar has announced plans to install 1.8 GW of PV capacity by 2014 while Saudi Arabia’s renewable energy strategy include 16 GW of solar power facilities.
Is the Middle East really developing a “green” conscience or is something else driving this trend? Rising populations and GDP, as well as economics, it seems are the main drivers. Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East are struggling to meet drastically increasing demands for domestic energy. So far, the preferred source of that energy has been natural gas, in part because of pollution. The abundance of sunlight makes for an even cleaner alternative, and will allow these oil-producing nations to continue to get rich off their exports.
So, the Middle East’s environmental conscience is not necessarily good news for the climate, but it does prove that alternative energy makes sense even if it’s oil that makes you money.