Domestic wind power grows oil exports

While the Middle East and North Africa are more obviously associated with oil, gas and solar power, much of the region also has a good wind resource, coupled with plenty of space in which to install turbines. Few of these countries, however, have managed to get wind power off the ground, despite some early pioneering projects, and with one or two notable exceptions.

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Faced with ever growing demand for energy and escalating fuel bills, the oil-rich Middle East and North Africa are waking up to the potential of the region's wind resource. While some countries so far do not have a single turbine in place, others already have targets or are about to kickstart their wind markets

While the Middle East and North Africa are more obviously associated with oil, gas and solar power, much of the region also has a good wind resource, coupled with plenty of space in which to install turbines. Few of these countries, however, have managed to get wind power off the ground, despite some early pioneering projects, and with one or two notable exceptions.

"The problem throughout the region is political rather than technical," says César Nahas, director of Global Wind Energy, a Paris-based consultancy that has been active in the region for many years. It may reflect a lack of political will or stability or more specific issues such as the trade embargo in Iran. In addition, electricity in most countries is heavily subsidised, making it difficult for independent power producers to operate, and tenders often require performance bonds. This means none of the big players are willing to bid, according to Nahas. Instead, small companies, hungry for business, win the tenders, but can not then meet the performance targets.

Things may be about to change. The region faces rapidly increasing energy demand and escalating fuel bills. A report by management consultants A T Kearney, released in December, estimates that more than $500 billion (EUR 376 billion) must be invested in the electricity sector to meet increased demand in the Middle East alone. Power cuts are frequent in many places, particularly in summer when demand can increase by over a third. Even those countries with substantial oil and gas reserves are keen to diversify their energy resource for reasons of security or to maximise revenues by selling their fossil fuels instead of consuming them.

Egypt and Morocco are by far and away the largest wind power players in the region, with 365 MW and 134 MW, respectively, of operating capacity, but other Middle East countries are beginning to stir. Some are breathing potential life into their wind markets through participation in the Mediterranean Union co-operation with the European Union on energy supply (box), but activity in several countries goes beyond that.

Iran embargo hitch

After Egypt and Morocco, Iran lies in a surprising third place in the region's wind power league table (table). Since the mid-1990s, Iran has been quietly installing turbines and now has 65 MW under its belt, power purchase contracts signed for a further 420 MW and preliminary permits for 650 MW. By the end of this year total capacity should reach over 120 MW.

Official estimates indicate Iran could generate up to 10 GW from wind, although others predict four times as much. The best resource is in the area south of the Caspian Sea, where 36.3 MW are turning around Manjil. The remaining 28.38 MW are located at Binalud and Dizbad in the north-east. Apart from a few, early NEG Micon machines from Denmark, before that company's merger with Vestas, all the turbines installed in Iran are Vestas 660 kW units. A local company, the Sadid Industrial Group, has been manufacturing blades and towers for these machines since 2001 under licence from Vestas (Windpower Monthly, February 2007).

The government's current five-year development plan (2005-2010) requires that renewables meet 1% of electricity demand by 2010, requiring about 500 MW of capacity. Up to now all wind power plant have been built by the Iran Renewable Energy Organisation (SUNA) from the public purse, but the government is keen for the private sector to fund future developments. With this in mind, it recently doubled the guaranteed purchase price for electricity generated from renewables to an average IRR 1241/kWh (EUR 0.096/kWh) and extended the term to 20 years (Windpower Monthly, April 2009). It is also drafting a regulatory and financial framework. The main problem, however, is the trade embargo imposed by the United States in 1995. This effectively means only Indian and Chinese manufacturers are willing to sell their turbines to Iran.

Tunisia fourth

While Tunisia only joined the wind club in 2000, it already has 54 MW connected. With another 120 MW due on line next year, it should meet its target of around 200 MW by 2012 ahead of schedule. Like Iran, Tunisia is turning to the private sector to drive development. A recent amendment to the law allows big industrial users to produce renewable energy for their own consumption and sell any surplus to the state utility. The initiative has so far prompted proposals for around 60 MW of wind power (Windpower Monthly, March 2009).

Israel, Jordan and Libya stir

Israel's first and only commercial plant started operating in 1992. Since then the country has been off the wind energy radar. But there are now signs of renewed activity (Windpower Monthly, March 2009). The government says Israel could generate as much as 2500 MW from wind rather than the 400-500 MW previously cited. Its renewables target for 2020 is 10% and a 25-50% hike in the production incentive is widely expected; the current overall price paid for wind generated electricity is around $0.10/kWh (EUR 0.076/kWh).

Mei Golan Wind Energy, the local developer and operator that built Israel's first 6 MW plant in the wind-rich Golan Heights in 1992, is about to repower the old, Austrian-designed Floda 600 kW turbines and boost capacity to 14 MW. The new turbines should be installed this autumn. Next year another 380 MW could be under way in the Golan Heights if the project developers, US energy giant AES and Mei Golan, get the go-ahead to proceed. The two companies are also developing another 200 MW in the south of the country, while Israel's Afcon Industries Group has 30 MW permitted and ready to build at Rabat Sirin and Gilboa in lower Galilee. Afcon has turbines lined up and is in the final stages of securing finance for the project. Further ahead, Afcon is working on 250 MW or so spread across several sites.

While Jordan has yet to get any commercial projects off the ground, its two pilot projects totalling 1.45 MW, date from the 1990s. Now the government has at long last announced the outcome of a tender process for up to 40 MW (Windpower Monthly, April 2009) and expects to launch two further tender calls for 300-400 MW before the end of the year (box). This year, Jordan's long-awaited energy law may also reach the statute books. One of its key aims is to spur private investment by establishing a stable regulatory framework and through various financial incentives. If these work as planned, the kingdom could well meet its target of 600 MW of installed wind capacity by 2020 ahead of schedule.

Libya is another country apparently keen to dust off its wind power credentials. In 2005, the government selected Germany's Cube Engineering to build a 25 MW pilot project on the coast 200 kilometres east of Benghazi. The project has languished since then, probably for political reasons, suggests Cube's Thomas Süssenbach. The delay is certainly not for lack of wind. The site has "excellent wind conditions," Süssenbach asserts. Cube has since completed a wind atlas for the whole country showing a number of sites with equally good potential.

There are signs that the authorities are now more supportive of wind power. The dedicated Renewable Energy Authority of Libya (REAOL), established mid-2007, has recently been restructured and now reports directly to the People's Committee, one step above parliament. A draft electricity law is going through the endorsement process. Among other things, the law includes a section on renewable energies and allows competition and the gradual opening of the market to the private sector.

Wind power projects will be financed either from national funds or jointly with local and foreign investors. The target is for renewables to supply 10% of the country's energy mix by 2020. Wind could supply as much as 1.5 GW of this, though REAOL estimates Libya's total wind potential at over 5 GW.

To get the ball rolling, REAOL has awarded three projects totalling 240 MW to be completed in 2010 and 2011. Two 60 MW projects went to an unnamed local company at Dernah, to the east of Benghazi, with Spain's M Torres Olvega supplying the turbines. Another unnamed local firm won the remaining 120 MW project at Al Maqrun, south of Benghazi. The turbines will be Siemens 2.3 MW units. A second tender call for 250 MW closed at the end of May and REAOL reports it is negotiating with investors to develop a further 500 MW.

Masdar and the Seychelles

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) boasts a single turbine, the only one operating in the whole Arabian peninsula despite a wind resource estimated at around 1 GW. The lone Vestas 850 kW unit was installed with much fanfare on Sir Bani Yas Island in Dubai in 2004 (Windpower Monthly, January 2005). Now Abu Dhabi is positioning itself as a renewable energy hub via Masdar, its multi-billion, multi-faceted "future energy initiative."

Last year, Masdar not only broke ground on its flagship Masdar City, "the world's first carbon-neutral city," to be run totally on renewable energy, but also splashed out on shares in Finnish turbine manufacturer Winwind Oy and the 1 GW London Array offshore project (Windpower Monthly, November 2008). The principality hosts what it claims to be the world's first graduate institution dedicated to future energy solutions, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.

More modestly, in January Masdar signed an agreement with the Seychelles government to develop clean energy. This will likely include feasibility studies for an 18 MW wind project on Mahé. The facility could supply over 15% of the island's electricity needs, avoiding the need to import expensive diesel and heavy fuel oil.

Lebanon and Algeria yet to start

Lebanon is even further down the road than the UAE, with no turbines to its name. In 2007, the then energy minister signed a memorandum of understanding with privately owned Lebanese Wind Power for up to 100 MW of wind power in the northerly Akkar region. Since then, further progress has been blocked by the current minister, Alain Tabourian, who has repeatedly expressed his opposition to renewable energy, saying it is a luxury Lebanon cannot afford. Only thermal power deserves consideration because it can be used for base-load generation, unlike wind and solar, Tabourian maintains.

Others believe wind power has a crucial role to play. It can help reduce Lebanon's reliance on diesel and heavy fuel oil, argues Ziad Hayek, Secretary General of the Higher Council for Privatisation. Wind-generated electricity has the potential to save money, given the widespread expectation of a renewed increase in fossil fuels; and the government could also benefit from a private sector ready and willing to invest in wind power, Hayek says. "The saving of upfront capital expenditure, the elimination of the risk of on-time and on-budget completion, the development of local technical expertise and the creation of employment opportunities in rural areas should be regarded as substantial additional incentives for the government of Lebanon to support private sector renewable energy projects," he believes.

The industry is hoping this month's parliamentary elections will bring about a change. Even so, it is unlikely anything concrete will happen before the end of the year, with a draft energy bill from 2006 still yet to become law.

The news from Algeria, on the north African coast, is much more optimistic, with the country edging closer to its first industrial-scale wind power installation. Last year the national electricity and gas company, Sonelgaz, launched a competitive tender for a 10 MW pilot wind power project at Tindouf in the windy southern desert. The turbines will run in combination with a 30 MW diesel generator feeding the town's isolated grid. Sonelgaz says it will stump up the estimated $30 million (EUR 23 million) cost. Interest in the scheme has been muted. French turbine manufacturer Vergnet has submitted a bid, while Canada's RSW International is considering whether to put in an offer.

Yemen, Iraq, Saudi Arabia

The World Bank is supporting the development of a 65 MW grid-connected demonstration plant in Yemen through its Global Environment Facility. Approval for the proposed project, at Al Mokha on the Red Sea coast, is expected in the autumn. A second component would provide technical assistance to help build local skills and prepare the way for large-scale development through public-private partnerships.

In Iraq, work should start soon on feasibility studies at several sites in Kurdistan. Local company Zagros has been contracted to carry out the work and design installations in association with Germany's Energieteam (Windpower Monthly, April 2009).

Saudi Arabia is so flush with oil it has shown little interest so far in developing its wind resources. That said, the government does not want to miss out on the action completely. In 2007, it founded the Centre of Research Excellence in Renewable Energy at the King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals in Dhahran. The centre's research programs include assessing the country's wind potential and investigating technology transfer, advanced energy storage, electrical infrastructure and control systems and economic issues.

Getting connected

The grid in much of the Middle East and North Africa consists of aged equipment and inadequate transmission and distribution networks. Countries are gradually upgrading their systems and linking to their neighbours to allow trade of electricity and reduce the need for spinning reserve. Further impetus is provided by the Mediterranean Solar Plan (box), the successor to the earlier Medring, linking Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Among the major infrastructure projects, a network linking Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and Oman should be completed by 2011. In February, Iran and Pakistan signed an agreement to look into building a 1 GW transmission line linking the two countries. Iran has also proposed links to Syria, Iraq and Turkey. In March, Egypt issued a call for companies to tender consultancy services for a 1500 kilometre interconnection with Saudi Arabia. Tunisia and Italy are also planning two submarine cables (Windpower Monthly, March 2009).

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