Aprés COP 18: Will Qatar Rebound with Solar?

cop 18 qatar solar

With free water and electricity, and the world’s largest carbon footprint, is Qatar’s new stance on solar a bona fide shift towards fossil fuel alternatives or are they simply catching the latest fashion?

Qatar aims to raise the share of solar power in state electricity generation to 16% by 2018, an official told The Jordan Times, “We are working on a project to develop 1,800 megawatts of solar power,” said Fahad Bin Mohammed Al Attiya.  “That will be 16% of our total electricity output,” he then told Reuters.  That project is planned to be operational by 2018.

Qatar’s carbon emissions per capita are the highest in the world and three times as high as the United States. According to the Living Planet Report, produced by the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Footprint Network, if everyone lived like the average Qatari, Earth’s resources would need to increase fivefold. Global Footprint’s data show that human consumption of resources is outpacing the planet’s biocapacity to support. Presently, we use the equivalent of 1.5 planets per year, a pattern expected to increase to 2 planets per year by 2030. Will this small uptick in Qatari renewable production have a noticeable impact?Energy usage is sky-high in tiny Qatar. Oil extracted from the desert country’s rich sands isn’t included in the country’s consumption figures (unless it’s burned in-state), but even with that qualification, Qatar is one of the top users of fossil fuels.

The state provides it’s citizens with free electricity and free water, which the Guardian‘s Fred Pearce described in a 2010 column as “liquid electricity,” since Qatari water is largely produced by energy-intensive desalination.

Energy demand has been trending at 7% annual increases primarily due to desalinators and air conditioners that make modern living in the desert climate endurable.  Vast energy is required to extract, process and transport the country’s gas and oil reserves, and an explosion of major capital development projects demand extreme energy consumption in both initial construction phases and over lifetime operations and maintenance.

Qatar, one of the world’s top exporters of liquefied natural gas, has also been experiencing ongoing increases in production and exports of liquefied natural gas, oil, and petrochemicals. It’s estimated that the nation will invest over $120 billion in its energy sector over the next ten years. Resultantly, Qatar has the world’s highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions.

Al Attiya said the tiny Gulf state now has negligible use of solar power despite strong sunshine year-round.  He expects the plan for more renewables will partly aid desalination.

“We will also have a feed-in tariff system so that people can put solar systems on their roof and contribute to the grid. Al Attiya added, “All these measures have been applied now because solar prices are becoming reasonable and competitive. With the amount of solar hours we have it is economically feasible”. But is it realistic?

There is scant financial incentive for Qataris to adopt domestic photovoltaics or thermal heating systems.  Sell-back-to-the-grid schemes are unlikely to appeal to the thousands living in Doha towers and villas.

In the aftermath of a disappointing COP 18, the news of Qatar turning to small-scale solar seems like the fat lady ordering a diet soda to go with her double cheeseburger and fries.

Image of Doha at sunset by Shutterstock

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