Two decades ago, it was hard to spot a solar panel in Qatar. Though they were there, in very small numbers: to provide light in the occasional rural wayside mosque for travellers, or to illuminate a few public telephone booths.
Qatar Vision 2030, launched in 2008, set the nation a target: 2% renewable energy by 2020. Discussion of renewable energy moved towards the forefront in 2010, and in 2013, former Minister of Energy and Industry, Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah, was quoted as saying: ‘Qatar aims to generate 20% energy from renewables by 2024 and have 1,800MW of ‘installed green capacity’ by 2020.’
In June 2015 English-language newspaper the Gulf Times said: ‘According to scientific experts, the natural power of the sun supplies Qatar with the annual equivalent of 1.5 million barrels of oil per sq km.’
The potential has always been there, with just the logistics under discussion.
Qatar, after all, receives a year-round average of nine and a half hours sun per day with scant cloud coverage. And there are large tracts of flat, open, land outside the urban areas, which could be used for solar panel fields.
In total, it has been estimated that around 2 million sq m of land would be needed for sites to provide enough solar power to meet Qatar’s targets.
However the utilisation of wind power in the country has, in general, received less focus.
However, during the eighteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP18), held by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha in 2012, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) for a Global Renewable Energy Atlas Initiative.
And a feasibility study by consulting group COWI showed that a large potential for the use of renewable energy exists along the route of a proposed Qatar-Bahrain Causeway (both wind and solar).
The conclusions were that both solar and wind energy potential exists in Qatar while the proposed Qatar-Bahrain causeway project could offer solar and wind energy opportunities for both Qatar and Bahrain.
But for now, in Qatar, the sun is the winner.
Qatar’s global horizontal irradiance (GHI) is estimated at 2,140 kWh per m2 per year, making it well suited to solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. However, there’s also potential for concentrated solar power (CSP) as the peninsula’s direct normal irradiance (DNI) value is around 2,008 kWh per m2 per year.
Global Horizontal Irradiance (GHI) is the total amount of shortwave radiation received from above by a surface horizontal to the ground. It includes both Direct Normal Irradiance (DNI) and Diffuse Horizontal Irradiance (DIF).
On the downside, there’s often fine dust in the air in Qatar and throughout the GCC region which reduces the solar power potential, not least when settling and quickly obscuring solar panels, reducing their efficiency (and also creating a potential cleaning nightmare for a field of panels). However technical solutions for that are being developed across the globe.
Observation undertaken by the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) also showed the remarkable difference between ‘sunny’ and ‘foggy’ days. Photos on their website show extreme cases in two relatively close mornings, from 19 and 28 January 2015, with pictures taken ‘from the QEERI Solar Resource Assessment site in EC towards the east (Diplomatic Area)’.
In June 2015, it was announced that research undertaken by QEERI and the Irish research centre, AMBER, had provided new insight into the functioning of the mineral perovskite with reference to solar energy production.
AMBER is funded by Science Foundation Ireland and jointly hosted by Ireland’s Trinity College Dublin and the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices. The research into perovskite, published in the journal Nature Communications, indicates that perovskite could – in time – produce an efficient but cheaper alternative to silicon in the production of solar panels.
Teachers attended workshops and were given access to the interactive website which provides online learning tools based on the three Shams Generation levels of solar learning. Solar kits were distributed to all participating students who then had to draw upon their various skill sets to create innovative solar works of art that combine light, motion and solar energy. Qatar Academy and Doha College showcased a number of the student’s creative solar applications at their solar art and light exhibitions held at Qatar Foundation and Doha College’s Al Waab campus.
The number of students in the programme is expected to expand from 750 to 1,500 in the 2015–16 academic year.
Qatar General Electricity & Water Corporation (Kahramaa) is spearheading efforts to transform the country into a regional solar hub, and aims to have its first solar power facility (covering over 100,000 sq m in Duhail) operational by 2016, with a generation capacity of 15 MW. Kahramaa also hopes to have a generation capacity of 200 MW solar power at 60 sites across the country by 2020.
In early 2015, the Gulf Organisation for Research Development (GORD) launched the Eco Villa (right) as a landmark project highlighting Qatar’s commitment to sustainable development. Scoring four stars on the Global Sustainability Assessment System, the project offers genuinely sustainable, smart and healthy living with features including an on-site renewable energy generation system. The aims are to reduce energy consumption; to reduce heat transfer throughout the building; to use renewable sources of power such as solar and wind energy; to focus on natural ventilation and improve the efficiency of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
Qatar Solar was established as a 100% owned holding company formed by Qatar Foundation specifically to invest in solar technologies, new applications of solar, and solar research opportunities, in line with Qatar’s National Vision 2030.
Qatar Solar Technologies (QSTec) was Qatar Solar’s first investment into the industry with Qatar Solar having a 70% shareholding. Its second investment was in 2014, with the acquisition of a 29% equity holding in the German solar giant SolarWorld AG.
QSTec’s polysilicon plant will produce 8,000 tonnes per annum of high grade polysilicon, from two production trains, for export to the world’s solar energy markets, beginning in 2015.
Photovoltaics and silicon equipment specialist, ‘centrotherm photovoltaics AG’, reported increased sales in the first half of 2015, driven by revenue generated from the plant. In its silicon segment, primarily comprising subsidiary SiTec, sales reached EUR40.09 million, including EUR31.8 million directly from the QSTec polysilicon project in Qatar. QSTec is also constructing a 150 MW Solar Module manufacturing facility and a 1.4 MW solar farm at Ras Laffan.
Its innovative hands-on solar learning programme, called Shams Generation, is attempting to bridge the solar energy knowledge gap in Qatar and develop the next generation of solar engineers, artists and renewable energy entrepreneurs. In the first stage pilot programme, QSTec provided solar learning kits aimed at various scholastic levels and abilities, to Qatar Academy, Awsaj, Qatar Academy, Sidra Medical and Research Center, and Doha College.
Qatar’s initial proposals in its bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ included government plans to enhance the use of renewable energy by building five stadiums employing innovative solar-powered cooling technology to mitigate the heat and cool the facilities. Later decisions to hold the World Cup in winter has reduced the need for cooling during the tournament, but not negated the efficacy of the proposals in terms of stadium legacy use.
On a smaller scale, local companies such as Al Emadi Solar offer customers technical advice on the design, engineering and installation of small, medium and large sized photovoltaic systems.
Headquartered in Doha, GreenGulf is a clean technology and renewable energy advisory business focused on the development and management of renewable energy in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. Founded in 2009, GreenGulf is a successful Qatari start-up launched by Qatar Foundation’s Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP). It is responsible for 3.5 MW of Qatar’s 4 MW total installed solar capacity. From the country’s first solar photovoltaic system, installed by GreenGulf on the roof of the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC), the number of firms and institutions in Qatar’s solar ecosystem has rapidly multiplied in the past three years.
Since QSTP and GreenGulf’s flagship Solar Test Facility project was launched in 2012, it has gathered valuable data on how 30 different solar technologies perform, helping the industry optimise the performance of those technologies in a region with abundant solar energy but challenging environmental conditions.
In 2013, Qatar Fuel Additives Company Limited (Qafac) and GreenGulf Inc signed an agreement to identify and develop projects of mutual interest, including: the integration of solar power into Qafac affiliated projects, carbon capture to serve as feedstock for Qafac’s methanol production stream, waste-to-energy solutions specially focused on process engineered fuels and deploying methanol powered vehicles in Qatar.
And Qatar’s National Food Security Programme incorporates plans ‘for using solar technologies to provide 80% of the power required for water desalination and other operations of Qatar’s agricultural sector’.
For new renewable energy initiatives in Qatar it’s a case of ‘watch this space!’
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