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The 2 Energy Giants Reshaping The Middle East

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Countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which today are powered mostly by fossil fuels, are now implementing far-reaching renewable energy programs. Saudi Arabia has a target to achieve 59 GW of renewables by 2030. The UAE has set a national goal to gain 44% of its energy from renewable sources, mainly solar, by 2050. Egypt, Morocco and other countries also have ambitious goals. They are quite ambitious, considering that the Gulf countries’ share of renewable electricity capacity is less than 1 percent today. Two regional companies are leading the way, gradually building the renewable energy framework to power the future.

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Riyadh-based ACWA Power began in 2004 building combined-cycle power and water desalination plants. It later expanded into solar and wind power generation and now approximately 22% of its assets are in renewables. The group, which is owned by a combination of Saudi-based investors and public funds, has offices in 11 countries. It had net operating income of approximately $420 million in 2017.

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Masdar, or Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, was established in 2006 as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi government’s Mubadala Investment Company. Its Masdar Clean Energy division is a major developer of renewable energy projects in the MENA region, while its investments extend to projects in Europe, the Caribbean and Pacific Islands.

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While the company does not publically disclose its financial results, its parent Mubadala states that it has over $1.7 billion of equity invested across a portfolio of renewable energy projects, which have a total value of $6.4 billion. Masdar Clean Energy employs about 80 personnel at its offices in the experimental sustainable development Masdar City. Site work is performed by qualified contractors in the various countries

Building a record-breaking solar park project-by-project

Both companies have played major roles in developing one of the region’s premier renewable energy projects: the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park (aka MBR Solar Park), an enormous facility in the desert southeast of Dubai, which is being developed in stages under the independent power producer (IPP) model. Planned to provide 5 GW of electric power at build-out in 2030, it has been the scene of record-setting low bidding for utility scale solar power in recent years

It was in 2015 that an ACWA-led consortium broke records in bidding for MBR Phase 2, agreeing to deliver electricity to the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) for 5.84 cents / kWh. That was for a 200 MW solar photovoltaic (PV) installation that became operational in 2017

Related: China Set To Miss Shale Gas Production Target By A Mile A year later in 2016 a Masdar-led consortium broke records again with a winning bid to deliver electricity for 2.99 cents / kWh. That was for MBR Phase 3, consisting of an 800 MW solar PV installation featuring robotic cleaning and solar tracking technology. Much of this phase, developed with France’s EDF Energies Nouvelles, is now in operation and the rest is scheduled to be completed next year

ACWA came back in 2017 to win MBR Solar Park’s phase 4. Leading a consortium with Shanghai Power, it will build a 950 MW hybrid CSP/PV facility that includes 700 MW of concentrated solar power (CSP), combining a 600 MW parabolic basin complex and a 100 MW solar tower. This project, called Noor Energy 1, breaks world records for size of a CSP facility and for the 260 meter height of the solar tower. It is scheduled to enter service late next year

Masdar (and possibly ACWA) is now bidding on MBR Solar Park’s Phase 5, a 900 MW photovoltaic facility that was tendered by DEWA last month. When finished, this phase will put the big solar park at the halfway point to its build-out and well on the path to completion by 2030, when it could provide 25% of Dubai’s power requirement

Leading the way in KSA

The two companies are also active in the stiff competition to build Saudi Arabia’s small but quickly expanding renewable energy infrastructure. Masdar, in consortium with EDF, is now approaching financial close on the 400 MW Dumat Al Jandal wind farm, which will supply electricity for 2.3 cents / kWh, a record low tariff. It will deploy Vestas wind turbines. Meanwhile ACWA is developing the Kingdom’s first big utility-scale solar facility, the 300 MW PV plant at Sakaka

Both are now bidding on more Saudi projects, as the Kingdom’s National Renewable Energy Program gears up to produce 60 GW of renewable power by 2030. For its part, Masdar is currently bidding on four Saudi projects that will generate a total of 1.4 GW of electricity: Al Faisaliah Solar PV (600 MW), Jeddah Solar PV (300 MW), Rabigh Solar PV (300 MW), and Qurayyat Solar PV (200 MW)

Yousif Al Ali, Acting Executive Director of Masdar Clean Energy, thinks there is a good business case for renewable energy in Saudi Arabia, even as technology advances and auctioning have driven down its price

Related: High-Cost Oil Faces Existential Risk

«Saudi Arabia has a very ambitious program and good financing to produce low cost electricity,» he says. «What will make the difference in winning projects now are the conditions,» he says, referring to the cost of site preparation

There is need to flatten the dunes for huge sites like MBR Phase 3 that covers 16 square kilometers. «In the ‘old days’ it was not so critical if your site costs were 5% higher,» he continues. «But that’s not true now because, with very low prices, it becomes a big job to move sand.»

Masdar on the move

«We are technology agnostic,» Al Ali says. «We don’t hesitate to offer new technologies for the projects we bid on.»

Masdar gained notoriety early on for its development of concentrated solar power plants. It entered a joint venture with Spain’s Sener to build the Gemasolar and Valle 1 and 2 plants, now producing 120 MW of power in southern Spain. Another high profile project was Shams 1, a 100 MW CSP facility in Abu Dhabi’s western desert inaugurated in 2013

Now, in addition to its bidding on the Saudi projects, the company is working on a commercial waste-to-energy plant in the Emirate of Sharjah, a solar project in Oman and two solar projects in Ethiopia, each 125 MW, in cooperation with the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank

Masdar also has a 20% share in the enormous 600 MW London Array offshore wind farm now under development, and a 25% share in the Hywind (Scotland) offshore project that features floating wind turbines.  

The company is developing a CO 2 capture and sequestration process with injection for oil recovery for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc). And, in a consortium with EDF, it is proposing new technology for a 400 MW Hybrid Plant (CSP trough plus PV) at Midelt in Morocco. A winning bidder for that project should be selected this month

ACWA active across the region and beyond

ACWA Power has been quite active in Morocco, taking a leading role in development of the Ouarzazate Solar Complex in south-central Morocco. As planned by the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), it is to become a 500 MW solar park that incorporates several utility-scale solar power plants

ACWA led development of the NOOR PV I project, which comprises a total 135 MW at three sites near Ouarzazate. And, with Sener and other consortium partners, it built three projects including:  NOORo I CSP IPP with a capacity of 160MW with three hours of thermal energy storage (to deliver power at the evening peak times); NOORo II which features parabolic trough CSP technology with a capacity of 200 MW and 7 hours of storage; and, NOORo III with a CSP tower with a capacity of 150 MW and 7 hours of storage

ACWA also has a controlling position in the 120 MW Khalladi Wind Farm near Tangiers in northern Morocco. In Egypt, it is developing three solar photovoltaic power plants with an aggregate capacity of 165.5 MW, located in the Aswan Province at Benban

In Jordan, the company built the Mafraq PV project, a 50 MW solar PV plant located within the King Hussein Bin Talal Development Area near the city of Al Mafraq north of Amman. It is now developing the Risha solar PV project, a 50 MW solar plant located 300 km east of Amman

In South Africa, the company has invested in the 100MW Redstone CSP plant, with 12 hours of energy storage to deliver a stable electricity supply well after the sun has set. It has also participated in the development of a large solar project in Bulgaria and is leading the development of another in Vietnam.  

By Alan Mammoser for

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