Deserts are seemingly obvious places to locate solar technology. In fact, the swath of desert stretching from the Atlantic Ocean, across North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, to the Persian Gulf has vast solar potential. But until recently it has not been economically feasible, or even necessary, to develop the renewable resource. In many areas, geographic constraints such as rough terrain have made solar projects impractical.
Only now has a combination of demographic pressure, low oil prices and technological readiness primed Middle Eastern and North African states for more investment in solar power. For countries such as Jordan and Morocco, renewable energy may offer a path toward greater energy independence. Others, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are interested in exporting renewable energy technology and financing solar projects abroad.
The steady price decline of solar power generation infrastructure, especially photovoltaic cells, is making the renewable option more viable for North African and Middle Eastern states, a region where the sun shines in abundance. Not only is the technology becoming more affordable, but operational costs after construction are also minimal when compared with hydrocarbon-based generation. As a result, several countries in the Middle East and North Africa are focusing on solar power as a means to satisfy rising electricity demand, make cuts to unsustainable government subsidy programs and reduce dependence on energy imports.
The sun will not replace hydrocarbons as the region's primary energy source, but where markets can meet national goals and strategies, it has the potential to help some countries diversify their power sources. Given the region's growing energy demand, interest and investment in solar generation there will increase in the near and medium term. And although it will stay subordinate to hydrocarbons, solar power is primed to become a more prominent part of the energy mix in the Middle East and North Africa.