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Meaner resources spur the MENA region into action

28 March 2012

Sustainability is now firmly on the agenda in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). With the development of Masdar* at the hub of a low carbon future, we are continually seeing a shift away from fossil fuels towards a variety of clean energy and power initiatives.  Indeed, some of the most surprising movements are happening in oil-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. My guest writer this week, Victoria Kenrick, takes a look at the rise in alternative energy projects in the region and the large numbers of renewable energy job opportunities that are being created as a result.

Currently, the MENA region meets 98% of its energy requirements through oil and gas, having benefited from abundant hydrocarbon resources and low costs in the region, writes Victoria Kenrick.  However, rising oil prices combined with a greater understanding by the Middle East of the impacts of global warming and growing energy demands, brought about by huge infrastructure development, have resulted in depleting reserves and a clear need to diversify. Fortunately, the geography and climate conditions of the MENA region are highly conducive to the development of renewable energy sources, most notably solar and wind.
The vast desert is ideal for solar energy, while the Mediterranean and North African coastlines are highly suitable for wind energy production.  In fact, my company is currently partnering a prestigious international corporation to find a VP for its alternative energy operation which will oversee all renewable energy projects within the Middle East.  As we will discover, this is an exciting opportunity as the region is beginning to exploit its natural resources: the sun, sea and land mass.

Solar energy
With average daily sunlight exceeding 8.8 hours in the Middle East, limited rainfall and abundant land space there are optimum physical resources for the construction of large scale solar power plants. Recent solar energy projects include Desertec, designed to enable the use of solar energy and wind, in deserts worldwide. Morocco, the only North African nation without oil resources, is a promising site for solar power because of its abundant sunshine combined with its government's eagerness to embrace solar energy.

In the early part of this decade, Morocco unveiled a US$9bn plan to build five solar plants that would produce 2,000MW of electricity - enough to power Morocco’s largest city, Casablanca. Furthermore (according to the Moroccan government) these solar farms could produce more than a third of the nation's capacity by 2020.

This project was the first step in the Desertec plan and is now well on the way to ensuring they have the best team of solar professionals on board to ensure the farm is completed by 2015, when it is expected that the site could feed some 340MW on a daily basis to Spain.  Furthermore, the combination of all the planned Desertec projects could generate up to 15% of Europe’s electricity by 2050. With the increase of such solar projects in the MENA region, we are seeing an increased demand for renewable energy professionals to support the development of solar farms and solar thermal power plant.
Onshore and offshore wind power
Wind Energy within the MENA region grew 38% in 2009, according to The Global Wind Energy Council and there are encouraging signs for wind power development in the MENA region over the coming years. Masdar intends to build a 20-30MW wind farm on Sir Bani Yas Island off the western coast of Abu Dhabi. In North Africa, the expansion of wind power continues in Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia; Egypt not only saw the largest addition of new capacity in 2010 (120MW), bringing the total up to 550MW, but also continues to lead the region with the government setting ambitious targets of 20% of total electricity produced from renewable energy sources by 2020.

Combined cycle power
Another primary clean energy source for the MENA region is combined cycle power; in fact the world’s first integrated renewable energy combined cycle power plant (CCPP) is being built in Turkey by General Electric and eSolar. The design integrates a traditional combined cycle plant with wind and solar energy, allowing it to generate electricity with much greater efficiency. The Karaman plant, due to start running in 2015, will have a capacity of approximately 530MW which is enough to power over 600,000 Turkish homes. 

The CCPP in Turkey will convert 69% of all the natural gas it consumes into electricity. Compare this with most natural gas plants that convert no more than 50%. Following in Turkey’s footsteps is Saudi Arabia, which has announced plans to construct the world's largest CCPP, which will provide enough energy to meet approximately one tenth of the country's current power demand. 

Renewable energy: the career opportunities
Supporting the growth of a clean energy infrastructure within MENA, Allen & York is busily recruiting the skilled professionals needed to design, build and run the facilities. If you are seeking job opportunities in this sector, visit

Victoria Kenrick is with Allen & York

*Masdar is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Government-owned Mubadala Development Company, a catalyst for the economic diversification of the Emirate


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