Clean energy initiatives surge forward in MENA region

Clean energy initiatives surge forward in MENA region | Courtesy of Shutterstock
New advances in clean energy are making big headlines in the GCC, as United Arab Emirates (UAE) leaders discover they have reached the critical mass point where it is now cheaper to produce a unit of energy from the sun than from oil.

Economies in the region are swiftly trying to pivot away from the oil and gas industry that has traditionally enriched places like Saudi Arabia and other gulf states.

But then there are those forces arrayed against clean energy that experts say aren’t going away anytime soon.

A Nov. 29 Reuters report announcing solar landmarks and other energy changes also points out the number of countries with big investments in oil and gas. These financial interests are partially responsible for stopping solar and other renewables from quickly taking over.

There's also the infrastructure burden: with the cost of system changeovers still high, many property owners, governments and businesses will cling to oil for the time being.

For more, Gulf News Journal spoke with Chris Steuer, sustainability manager at Millersville University in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, about the forecasts and opportunities in the U.S. and abroad.

“We continue to see positive developments on the renewable energy front,” Steuer told Gulf News Journal. “The cost to install photovoltaics continues to fall, making the technology increasingly attractive to consumers in the public and private sectors, as well as to individual homeowners.”

However, critical challenges still block rapid progress. First off, he stated, a bewildering array of cost factors can lead some investors and others to stick to what they know.

“Costs vary regionally based on local rebates, tax incentives and other factors,” Steuer said. “And, while the availability of multiple financing mechanisms provides choice to consumers, it also makes understanding the marketplace challenging.”

In addition, the costs of changes to renewables are front-loaded, while the savings come after the fact.

“In making the decision to transition to solar, many consumers will weigh the upfront costs of installing an array against the long-term savings realized through a smaller electricity bill, as well as the social and environmental benefits of lessening their contribution to climate change,” Steuer said.

Still, he believes government and private parties are helping the public to better understand the choices at their disposal.

“Fortunately, there are many good tools -- such as PVWatts and the Open PV Project and programs, such as the SunShot Initiative, available through the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) and Department of Energy (DOE) -- to spur continued research and development and to help consumers make informed decisions,” Steuer said.

As for policy managers, certain misgivings are going to delay or quell the urge to move to sustainable energy sources for the foreseeable future.

Countries like Japan and the U.S. have entrenched money interests like oil and gas investments tied to pension funds, which will keep traditional energy choices in play despite the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Fossil fuels won't just go away by themselves,” Patrick Graichen, executive director at Agora Energiewende, a German energy policy group, said in a press statement on the issue. “It's not just about phasing in the new technologies … you need a phase-out plan for the cheap incumbent fuels.”
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