The Middle East may be mineral-rich, but that does not mean oil and gas are distributed evenly across the Gulf and Levant. Jordan, for example, has to import more than 95 percent of its energy needs. The result is an economy that spends as much as 16 percent on energy, or more than 40 percent of the nation’s budget.
The capital, Amman, has a budding entrepreneurial spirit, and the nation is culturally and geographically rich from Petra to the Dead Sea. But tourism is hardly enough to sustain an economy for 6.5 million people — a number on the rise because of the Syrian refugee crisis and continued chaos in nations from Egypt to Iraq. Jordan has numerous other challenges, but it is rich in one resource: sunshine. Now the kingdom is accelerating the adoption of solar, starting with the country’s 6,000 mosques.
According to Amman’s English daily, the Jordan Times, government agencies are working together to install solar panels at mosques, financed by a combination of grants and contributions through zakat (one of the five pillars of Islam that requires charitable donations). The projects will start with tenders to retrofit 120 mosques with solar and then the program will expand across the nation.
Another pillar of Islam, prayer, is what keeps most mosques in Jordan and the Islamic world open from before sunrise to well after sundown. The Jordanian government spends over US$70 million on its mosques annually, including current upkeep, salaries and the construction of about 150 new mosques a year. Reducing the amount spent on electricity could free up funds for other zakat social programs, and could even allow mosques to raise their own funds thanks to a 2012 net metering law that allows those operating solar installations to sell excess energy back to the national grid. One mosque in Amman has already installed solar, and it went from having utility bills totaling $1,400 a month to being able to sell electricity back to the local power authority for US$0.18 a kilowatt hour.
The drive to switch mosques from conventional power to solar is part of the Jordanian government’s push to add more renewables to the country’s energy mix. The country has set a goal to score 10 percent of its energy needs from renewables by 2020 and expects 1,800 megawatts to be linked to its national power grid by 2018. One of the clean energy projects is a 117 megawatt wind farm in Tafila, which includes Abu Dhabi’s Masdar as one of its investors.
Installing solar panels on the country’s mosques is one step in freeing Jordan from the need to import energy — which has come with a financial and environmental price, especially after the repeated sabotage of the Arab Gas Pipeline from Egypt since 2011. That disruption in the country’s natural gas supply forced it to switch to dirty diesel generators, many of which are still in operation. But scaling up solar also can create job opportunities — much needed in a country with the unemployment rate hovering around 13 percent, and even higher among Jordan’s youth.
Image credit: Berthold Werner
Based in California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.