In with the New Solar Age

As I write the situation in Egypt and more generally across the Arab world is in flux, sparked by the ease with which Tunisian protesters ousted Ben Ali. Thousands of protesters are out on the streets calling for old despotic leaders to step down and for a democratic process to begin and everywhere people want an end to corruption and stifled economic opportunities. Youth unemployment is very high across the Arab world, and people want jobs and the chance to make a better life for themselves.
North Africa and the Middle East is also one of the key areas of the world in which the transition from “The Fossil-fuel Age” to “The Solar Age” is beginning to unfold. On 23rd December 2010 Egypt opened the Kuraymat power station (see a 150 MW hybrid, 20MW of solar thermal pre-heating of steam entering a gas fired power station, very similar to ones opening around the same time at Ain Beni Mathar in Morocco and at Hassi R’mel in Algeria. These are all relatively small scale in terms of solar, but hugely significant as the first solar power stations in North Africa.
( Kuraymat power station)
In November 2009 the Moroccan government announced its Solar Plan and the founding of Masen, the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy, to facilitate the plan. The aim is to have 2,000 MW of solar power stations up and running by 2020. This would represent 38% of installed capacity at that time. However many countries are finding that once they start installing renewables they exceed their own plans in no time: China met its wind power goal for 2020 already in 2010, a full decade ahead of schedule, and Morocco may possibly do likewise with solar.
For those of us concerned about Climate Change and giving people better democratic and economic opportunities these are critical times. While the unrest persists there is likely to be a cautious approach to investment (see, and thus establishing a peaceful transition is important for jobs in the solar industry to be created. I wish the protesters well, and hope that they can bring about a peaceful transition to democracy, and that these new governments are even keener than their predecessors to develop the solar powered economies that are their best chance of sustainable prosperity.
There’s an interesting youtube clip on the new Moroccan solar/gas hybrid plant here