Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on GE's Power Conversion blog.
By Hani Majzoub
Last year was a breakthrough year for solar in the Middle East with over 30 solar projects awarded – a ten-fold increase on 2013, according to the Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA). MESIA also predicts that in 2015, more than 1,500 megawatts worth of solar projects will be tendered to meet the rising electricity demands set by the region’s population, which is estimated to continue growing by approximately 1.9 percent year-on-year.
Accelerating the growth of solar is the continued development of innovative technologies and services that are further driving down the cost of solar systems, offering the rapidly growing regions of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) a valuable and economically viable energy alternative to conventional fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, last year Jordan awarded 12 solar projects, the most in any country in the region in 2014. Although it traditionally relies on fossil fuel imports to meet around 95 percent of its energy demand, the recent social unrest in the region has highlighted the risks with being over-reliant on a single energy source. To address this, last year, Jordan’s energy minister announced that several renewable energy projects with a total capacity of 1,800 MW will be connected to its national power grid by the end of 2018.
Morocco has the most ambitious clean energy target in the MENA region and is on track to have 42 percent of its installed energy capacity dedicated to renewable sources by 2020. Of that, 2,000 MW will come from solar. Furthermore, the Moroccan Institute for Research on Solar Energy and New Energy (IRESEN) last year financed six R&D solar thermal and CSP projects to drive technological advancements in the country. Last but by no means least, Egypt has also set its sights on solar, with a target of 2.3 GW of solar by 2017.
However, there are three key challenges which further technology innovations can help overcome:
Further innovations around solar including Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) for example, can play a key role alongside more traditional methods such as oil and gas, in stabilizing the grid. By concentrating the heat of the sun into a far smaller focal point, such as a boiler, this heat can be stored for later. With heat building up throughout the day, this provides an ideal energy source for when the sun is no longer shining, with the boiler driving a steam turbine to produce electricity onto the grid once PV output significantly reduces. Having reliable CSP systems which can be monitored remotely, while ensuring high reliability in harsh environmental conditions, is critical to the further growth of solar and in providing greater grid stability.
Despite solar power becoming competitive with the wholesale price of electricity in many regions across MENA, additional cost reductions are needed to make solar electricity fully competitive against conventional power sources in the long term. The opportunity of improving PV system costs via voltage increases on the DC side has already been successfully applied worldwide with the move from 600 VDC to 1,000 VDC large scale PV systems.
Today, new developments at GE has created a shift towards 1,500 VDC architecture and this is widely seen as the next natural step in the evolution of utility scale PV power plants, further tapping into the cost reduction opportunity. By increasing the voltage level, the inverter power station’s power rating increases proportionally and thus decreases system losses and balance of plant costs. In addition, GE’s LV5 inverters have the latest software controls ensuring optimized power harvesting and a smooth integration of power produced into the grid.
While many countries are recognizing the economic viability of solar, resolving technological issues is key to unlocking the role of solar in the global energy mix and driving it to parity with traditional energy sources.
Image credit: Flickr/Masdar Official
Hani leads the Power Conversion Sales for the Renewables Segment across the MENAT territory. In 2008, Hani joined GE Renewable Energy in Germany as a Program Manager and was instrumental in leading the strategic and operational planning for the Wind Multi-Megawatts Platform including the Growth Playbook, Session II and Operational Planning. Prior to joining GE Renewables, Hani has held a number of roles of increasing responsibility at Fujitsu Quantum Devices in Japan and Infineon Technologies (Former Siemens Semiconductors) in Germany. Hani holds an Electrical Engineering degree from the American University of Beirut and is based in Dubai.