Renewables capacity increased by 50% since 2022 and is expected to increase another 50% by 2024, according to the latest analysis by Global Energy Monitor.
The nations of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are poised to gain considerably from a renewable energy transition, according to new analysis by Global Energy Monitor (GEM). By some indicators, this transition may be just around the corner: Since May 2022, these countries1 have added 6.9 gigawatts (GW) to their operating large utility-scale2 solar and wind capacities, an increase of 57%. With 9 GW of renewable energy under construction and set to be completed by the end of 2024, this growth rate is on course to continue.
According to GEM, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Morocco could each be considered potential renewable leaders in the region by a range of metrics, including number of large utility-scale solar and wind projects brought online, prospective project capacity — whether announced, in pre-construction, or under construction — as well as ambitious renewable energy targets. Along with Egypt and Jordan, these countries have demonstrated the ability to follow through on plans to build out their renewable energy infrastructure.
At the same time, the renewables capacity added in the last year is relatively unambitious compared to the region’s peers. South America, a region with a similar population size and GDP, has brought online at least four times as much capacity over the same period (32 GW). Brazil alone contributed over 14 GW of large utility-scale solar and wind.
The region boasts a substantial catalogue of prospective large utility-scale solar and wind capacity (361 GW) adds GEM. Yet, over half of the MENA region’s prospective capacity is earmarked for green hydrogen production, despite the uncertainty and risk involved with this nascent technology. Nearly half of MENA countries are embracing either green hydrogen or direct energy export in a bid to diversify their economies. While Oman and Morocco appear to be threading the needle by planning sufficient solar and wind projects to meet their domestic green electricity targets, in many MENA countries the focus on green hydrogen may undermine efforts to provide ample domestic electricity access or transition national electricity sectors away from fossil fuels.
Gas is king
And gas is still king says GEM. Eighteen of the 23 countries analysed, including the three potential regional leaders above, intend to expand their gas and oil power plant fleets despite comparable costs of utility-scale solar and wind. Significant progress is therefore critical in order to dethrone gas, it suggests: over 500 GW of additional solar and wind would be needed to replace this generation”
“Still, when the questionable hydrogen and export projects subtracted from the region’s prospective utility-scale solar and wind capacity, 130 GW remain that, if real- ized, could make significant progress in displacing oil and gas use for electricity.”
“Last year’s wind and solar additions are a step in the right direction for the region but are still light years from dethroning oil and gas,” says Kasandra O’Malia, project manager for the Global Solar Power Tracker at GEM.
“The trouble is that the region’s path to a green economy relies overwhelmingly on hydrogen exports, which is an unproven technology that is not being designed to address energy access nor decarbonization at home.”
- The MENA region brought 6.9 GW of utility-scale solar and wind projects online in the past year, increasing its operational renewables capacity by half. However, this amount is less than a quarter of the capacity South America has operationalised over the same timeframe.
- Prospective renewables capacity in the region increased by 292 GW, a 400% year-over-year growth since 2022 — enough to power Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar. However, more than half (60%) of these projects are for green hydro- gen production or direct export. Green hydrogen may offer a means of economic diversification for these oil and gas-dependent nations, but carries higher risk and will not contribute to decarbonizing local electricity usage.
- Oil and gas power plants still provide over 90% of electricity within the region. It would take roughly 500 GW of additional solar and wind capacity to match the amount of power gener- ated by oil and gas.
- The region’s current solar and wind operating capacity, plus the 9 GW expected to come online in the next year, is still 20 times smaller than what is needed to replace the existing gas and oil-fired power plants in the region. MENA would have to add 19 GW of wind and solar every year in order to fully decarbonize its electricity sector by 2050.
- All but two of the 23 countries in the region have increased their plans for wind and solar power generation in the past year, with eight countries having at least three times more prospective capacity than twelve months prior.