You may find this hard to believe but some of the most affluent parts of the Middle East are facing power shortages. Even with giant oil and gas reserves, all the Gulf Arab countries, except Qatar, do not produce enough natural gas to meet their demand for electricity. Kuwait is already experiencing blackouts. Saudi Arabia is running near capacity. In the UAE and Oman the situation is so dire that they plan coal-fired power plants ” relying on the one fossil fuel Arabia lacks according to an article in the Financial Times.
The problem is the rate of growth in electricity usage has been so fast – Dubai saw demand double between 2002 and 2007 – that production has not been able to keep up. The state needs to add 11GW of capacity by 2015 forcing the Emirates ” Abu Dhabi and Dubai ” to approach the US for assistance to develop nuclear power. Congress will have to approve President Obama’s offer to sell nuclear technology to the UAE but there is apparently little chance they will block the deal. The article pins the blame firmly on the ruling families saying they have bought popular support with a massively subsidized lifestyle including almost free water and electricity. Dubai has just built one of the largest indoor ski slopes only made possible with below cost desalinated sea water and air-conditioning when the external temperatures can reach 120 degrees F. Homes have chilled swimming pools, fake waterfalls and masses of irrigated green lawns, all supported with below cost desalinated water and cheap power.
With the exception of Abu Dhabi’s new zero carbon city Masdar, which will operate largely on solar power, use of the sun’s energy has been strangely ignored in the Middle East. The largest installer of solar panels has been Spain but due to the slashing of subsidies, this market has collapsed in 2009 according to a separate article. However there has never been a better time for the Middle East to wake up to solar power production. Finished panel capacity, much of it in China, is said to have reached 9,000 MW per annum but demand has slumped to 4,500 MW this year. A price war has broken out as a result and any large scale push by Middle Eastern states into solar could access significantly lower installed capacity costs than was the case just 12 months ago. Of course the problem is the government cannot as readily subsidize the cost of power produced by individual dwelling solar panels as they can with state produced electricity plants, hence the urgency to construct alternative fuel power sources such as nuclear. May be the answer for the Middle East is not photovoltaic panels for individual dwellings but state supported solar furnace power generators like Southern California’s Edison US facility or Australia’s planned 1GW project.
Either way metals demand for such projects will be considerable and although conservation appears so low on the list of priorities, as a solution these projects look a dead certainty in the first half of the next decade.