Egypt and sunshine. The two go hand in hand. Ask any tourist, or come to that, any solar panel maker pulling in the profits. Both are grateful for the sunshine. Even in December, Egypt enjoys an average 6.4 hours of sunshine a day. In June, the average jumps to an incredible 11.9 hours a day.
Plenty of solar energy to exploit then. If we could somehow harness even just a couple of hours worth of sunshine falling across the Earth then that would provide the planet with enough energy for a full year. An incredible thought. And, given the rising cost of oil and gas these days, the race for cheap solar energy is well and truly on.
Indeed, a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report published early this year concluded that recent falling costs of solar power, excellent fit to demand patterns, and rising regional gas prices, meant PV was now economically viable or close to it in most Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries, overturning conventional wisdom.
With oil or liquefied natural gas prices above US$13/million British thermal units (MMBtu) (about $80/barrel oil), solar PV projects have become commercially viable in the generation mix without the need for subsidies. This break-even price would fall as solar power costs continued to drop.
The report, Sunrise in the Desert: Solar becomes commercially viable in MENA, added, “Key target markets include countries that are reliant on imported oil for power (e.g. Jordan, Morocco), that burn large amounts of domestic oil for power (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait) or that import LNG (Dubai and Kuwait).
“The increased viability of solar power has important implications. MENA countries have a new way to help meet their fast-growing energy demand. This, in turn, can release more oil and gas for export to world markets.
“To take advantage of this new opportunity, MENA governments and private-sector organisations will have to work together to rationalise energy pricing, introduce appropriate regulations to accommodate solar power in the generation mix, develop large-scale projects, and, ideally, help develop local companies across of the solar value chain.” The conclusions were echoed later on in the year by the International Energy Agency (IEA). In their Solar Heating and Cooling Roadmap, the IEA claimed solar energy could account for around one-sixth of the world’s total low-temperature heating and cooling needs by 2050.
While solar heating and cooling today made a modest contribution to world energy demand, the roadmap envisaged that if governments and industry took concerted action, solar energy could annually produce more than 16% of total final energy use for low-temperature heat and nearly 17% for cooling. This would correspond to a 25-fold increase in absolute terms of solar heating and cooling (SHC) technology deployment in the next four decades.
Paolo Frankl, the IEA’s Renewable Energy Division chief, said, “Given that global energy demand for heat represents almost half of the world’s final energy use – more than the combined global demand for electricity and transport – solar heat can make a significant contribution in both tackling climate change and strengthening energy security.”
Image of Egyptian sun from Shutterstock