The Middle East has a power problem almost unique to its region.
Abundant in oil and gas, many of its countries enjoy incredibly cheap energy tariffs.
But low energy prices and a hot climate is a recipe for just one thing – unabated consumption. The electricity use of the GCC countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – is six times the global average.
In Saudi, homes are using more electricity than the country’s industrial sector, with a huge chunk powering air conditioning, which can be running almost 24 hours – in the summer Saudi’s temperature drops only 15 degrees from its peak in the afternoon to its lowest in the middle of the night.
It is anticipated that up to $10bn per year will have to be invested in electrical infrastructure in the coming years to meet demand.
The kneejerk solution is to simply build more power plants, and this is happening apace in all the GCC countries. But the flip side to this course of action is that bigger power plants will use more oil and gas, and if more is being consumed domestically, there will be less to sell and bring in the monies that bankroll entire economies.
The answer to this consumption conundrum is to develop a demand side management plan that factors-in load management, demand response and energy efficiency.
The other solution is to embrace renewable energy. For a time it seemed incongruous to suggest that the countries with the most plentiful fossil fuels on the planet should turn to alternative forms of power, but it is the abundance of these fossil fuels that will be at risk if they do not.
The sunny climate of the Gulf makes solar power an obvious option, but so too does the boom in infrastructure development in countries such as Qatar – with some forward thinking, PV panels could be incorporated into the huge number of construction projects being built.
The most difficult part of this commonsense scenario is in getting policymakers and public alike to buy into it, and that needs a top-down approach that begins with a state-drafted energy map which puts demand side management – and in turn energy efficiency – front and centre.
There is no doubt it can be done. California was forced into similar action following its blackouts in 2005 and Germany has overhauled its energy policy since deciding to opt out of nuclear.
The rewards are there for the taking – a chance to put the GCC countries at the forefront of global players in the clean-tech/energy efficiency market. The natural resources are there and so too are the technology and funding. All that’s needed is the will. Otherwise, as one executive said at Power-Gen Middle East earlier this year: “At this rate, our kids are going to ask, ‘Where did all the oil go’?”