Mega-Solar Project in Tunisia Adds to the Growing Hope for Clean Energy in the Middle East


It is now known to all us that the future of our energy sources is renewable sources. Therefore, countries, organizations and individuals have started looking at how this new opportunity could be fully explored to benefit the world.

Geographically, many parts of the Middle East are good locations for solar power installations. The swath of desert stretching from the Atlantic Ocean, across North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula to the Persian Gulf has vast solar potential. The area is hot with sunshine radiating almost all year round.

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It is therefore not surprising that countries such as Morocco, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are making efforts to tap into this solar energy opportunity.

Despite the fact that some of these countries are rich in hydrocarbons, the opportunities that clean energy presents, is far greater than the conventional source where the environment has to be polluted in order to produce energy. Again, hydrocarbon-based energy generation is not sustainable over the long term.

This has made investment in clean energy increased at a faster rate in the Middle East. Jordan is said to import more than 95% of its energy at a cost of roughly 16% of its GDP. The source of the energy is from natural gas from Egypt and petroleum from Iraq. Currently, the country is attempting to meet its goal of relying on renewable energy sources for a full 20% of its generation capacity by 2018. Many projects, large and small, are underway in the country to achieve this goal. Solar panels on rooftops and the building of large solar parks with 200-megawatt capacity, are on course in the country.

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Worth mentioning, is the ambitious solar project under construction in Morocco. Morocco is also said to import most of its energy. But now, the country is taking advantage of solar power to increase energy security and lower energy costs. Morocco is building the world’s largest power plant using concentrated solar technology, which employs mirrors or lenses to focus sunlight to generate heat, which in turn, powers turbines. The first phase of the project, the Noor Solar Complex – near the city of Ouarzazate, has already opened. The country hopes that by 2025, half of its energy will come from renewable sources.

Although counties such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and Algeria do not have energy deficit, they are still investing in renewable sources, especially solar technology. The UAE particularly is investing in solar technology abroad. Through Masdar, the UAE’s renewable energy arm, the country has become involved in renewable energy projects throughout the Middle East, Africa, South America, Europe and some small islands in the Pacific.

Tunisia to also joining the party. The Tunisian government has entered into a partnership with the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, for Norway to help the country build a $30 million solar facility,  known as the Sahara Forest Project. The project is expected to be completed in 2018. The Sahara Forest Project is also running in Jordan and Qatar.

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The Sahara Forest Project is a multi project. It will not only bring solar power to Tunisia, but the facility will desalinate sea water to grow crops in the arid deserts of the country. Approximately 75% of the country is desert. The country is therefore not suitable for farming.

With this new project, there is hope for Tunisia to start farming. The Sahara Forest Project will function by integrating solar power and desalination technology. The seawater will cool and humidify the building.  The salt is removed from the water and sold, while the fresh water is used to irrigate crops. The water can also be used for drinking. The concentrated, mirrored solar power will then produce enough heat to boil water and crank the steam turbines for electricity, keeping the operation moving. By starting with this project, Tunisia hopes to generate around 30% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

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The country is also hoping to build a similar project that would be capable of irrigating crops, allowing the country to produce up to 170,000 tons of food every year.

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