Jordan looks ahead to renewable options

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Plans are under way to significantly boost Jordan’s energy independence over the coming years with a range of renewable power projects, including the largest solar power plant in the region.

A heavy reliance on energy imports has long represented a significant economic burden for the kingdom, with energy supplies becoming increasingly unreliable. Prior to 2011, four-fifths of Jordan's electricity was produced from natural gas channelled through a pipeline with neighbouring Egypt, but a series of attacks on the pipeline over the last four years forced Jordan to turn to expensive oil imports, which now account for more than half the country's energy supply.

Under Jordan’s Vision 2025 strategy, launched in May this year, the authorities aim to raise the proportion of energy consumption met by local supplies from around 2% last year to 39% over the course of the next decade. 

Following a number of delays, the country has made important progress this year towards improving its energy independence. This is particularly true in the case of renewable energy, the contribution of which the government intends to raise from 1.5% of the total energy mix to 11% by 2025, while aiming to reach a 15% contribution from nuclear power over the same timeframe.

Inking deals

The kingdom took a major step towards developing its nuclear power generation capacity in March when it signed a $10bn agreement with nuclear energy firm Rosatom to build Jordan’s first nuclear power plant. The state-owned Russian firm will conduct a feasibility study, site evaluation and environmental impact assessment for the construction of the plant at Amra in northern Jordan. The plant, which will have two reactors with a combined electricity generation capacity of 2000 MW, is due to be completed by 2022, according to the state-run Petra News Agency.

Jordan has also been making significant strides in developing capacity from other renewable energy sources. In April the government announced that it had pre-qualified 15 companies for the construction of a $150m solar power plant in Quweira in southern Jordan, with a capacity of 65-75 MW.

The country is also looking to expand the electricity grid to absorb more power generated by renewable energy projects. In May the authorities announced Chinese renewable energy firm Hanergy would provide the kingdom with a $310m grant to expand the grid.

Shortly after the announcement of the new grant, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with Hanergy subsidiary, Hanergy Thin Film Power Group, for the construction of 1 GW of wind and solar energy projects, worth an estimated $1.5bn, and an associated 20-year power purchase agreement.

Harnessing solar energy

Jordan has made considerable inroads in other solar energy projects this year. In May the kingdom selected four companies in a second-round tender to develop 50 MW of solar capacity each, taking advantage of irradiance levels in southern Jordan that are amongst the highest in the world, at around 6.4 KWh/sq metre/day. Even in the relatively shady parts of the north and the Rift Valley, irradiation averages 4.4-4.8 KWh/sq metre/day, giving the country overall an average of 5.6 KWh/sq metre/day, according to Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources (MEMR) figures.

The government had already awarded licences for 14 projects (12 solar and two wind) with a combined capacity of 200 MW earlier this year.

The biggest development to be approved under the first tender round was the 52.5-MW Shams Maan Solar Photovoltaic Project – also the largest solar energy project in the Middle East according to Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour. Construction on the $170m development began in June with the project due to be completed next year.

Household capacity

More major renewables projects are also being considered. In June local media reported that the government was conducting studies for the construction of a JD80m ($112m) solar power plant to provide energy to the Disi water project, which will pump water from the Disi aquifer in the south of the kingdom to other parts of Jordan.

Smaller-scale solar electricity generation is also expanding at a rapid pace. Since the passage of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Law in 2012, households and businesses have been permitted to generate 100% of their electricity consumption through their own solar panels and to sell excess output back to the grid. This has led to the installation of around 25 MW of capacity over the last year or so.

In order to further boost uptake, MEMR’s Jordan Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Fund recently signed agreements to fit 600 houses in northern Jordan with photovoltaic panels. The fund is also set to disburse JD25m ($35.26m) of funding for sustainable energy projects over the next three years with the aim of supporting households, including small and medium-sized enterprises, the tourism and health industries − both of which complain of high electricity costs − and government institutions. 

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