Renewable energy is a hot topic in the Middle East and north Africa, despite the region’s huge oil reserves. Saudi Arabia accounts for 22.1% of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) share of crude oil reserves, Iran 13.1% and the United Arab Emirates 8%, according to OPEC’s 2013 estimates.

Governments are acutely aware that oil will not last forever and long-term energy diversification is crucial. They are predominantly focused on generating solar and nuclear power.

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While Desertec is the most famous solar project in north Africa, Saudi Arabia is the most advanced country in the region for developing a renewable energy strategy. Its intention is to harness renewable energy sources so it can export more crude oil.

The King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, a special centre for scientific study, will put 60 more monitoring stations throughout Saudi Arabia to gauge the scope for solar, wind and geothermal power generation. It has already set up 10 stations. A report should be ready later in 2013 suggesting where to build energy production facilities. Saudi Arabia plans to have 23.9 gigawatts of installed renewables capacity within the next seven years, rising to almost 55 gigawatts within 20 years.

Many Saudi Arabian companies are keen to form joint ventures with foreign firms to bid for renewable energy projects, predominantly solar. Saudi groups such as Al Turki, Al Bassam and Zahid have expressed interest in doing just this, while European companies such as Conergy and Abengoa, large Chinese solar players such as Trina Solar and Renesola, Japanese trading houses such as Mitsui & Co, as well as US companies such as First Solar and Sun Power, have been tipped as potential bidders for the country’s solar projects.

Although solar energy is an important part of the UAE’s long-term energy planning – as highlighted by the Masdar City clean-tech cluster – the country has also established a comprehensive nuclear energy strategy. It is building four nuclear power stations, all of which are planned to come on stream by 2020. 

Lucia Dore is the head of GCC and Middle East at mergermarket. E-mail: lucia.dore@mergermarket.com