New initiatives expand use of green energy in Bahrain

With over nine hours of sunshine a day for eight months of the year, Bahrain would appear to be an obvious location in which to pursue solar power as a renewable energy option. Looking to harness this readily available resource, the country has already taken its first steps in establishing a renewable energy strategy and is creating a watchdog to oversee this new aspect of its energy sector.

First Steps

The country’s first 5-MW solar generation facility opened in the town of Awali in June 2014. The project was commissioned by state-owned Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO) and carried out by two US firms, Petra Solar (a subsidiary of Petra Systems) and Caspian Renewable Energy. Built around the concept of a smart grid, the sun-harvested energy is generated from a series of photovoltaic (PV) panels on shades built to protect parked cars from the sun at nine separate locations, including Awali Hospital, Bahrain University, Awali BAPCO Club and Awali Governorate’s head office building. In addition, there are street pole mounts and PV tree structures in Awali itself, allowing street lights to be solar powered. The network of solar panels is connected by Wi-Fi enabling controllers that allow for monitoring when the streets are lit and to analyse data fed back from each pole.

The project relies upon Petra Solar’s SunWave microinverters, which convert the direct current generated by the PV panels into an alternating current that can be fed into the grid. The energy generated from this cluster of sites was expected to produce 4.2m KWh in its first year, or the equivalent of the electricity used by 400 homes. Indeed, Petra Systems claims this “smart city” technology has saved the equivalent of 3.5 tonnes in carbon dioxide emissions since it was installed. Steve Rhoades, CEO of Petra Systems, said: “The installation demonstrates the evolution of solar power generation, provides valuable insight into grid health and can be used to improve grid quality.”

Bright Future

The Awali project, which took two years to complete, involved collaboration with BAPCO (a subsidiary of the National Oil and Gas Authority) and the University of Bahrain. The project formed part of the “Let Bahrain Shine” initiative, a campaign that aimed to see 10% of the country’s energy generated through renewables by 2010. Work on another pilot project to produce 5 MW of electricity using both solar and wind power has been taking place in 2015 on a 12-ha site near the Al Dur power and water Plant. Local media reported in 2014 that German consultancy firm Fichtner had spent a year assessing the viability of the scheme, and that tenders for the work would be awarded to firms with expertise in the area. Fichtner reported that the solar part of the site would generate 3 MW, while the remaining 2 MW would be generated through wind power.

Alternative Gains

There were further signs of a commitment to renewable energy in May 2015 when Isa Abdulrahman Al Hammadi, the minister of information affairs, told journalists after a Cabinet meeting in 2015 that the Electricity and Water Authority (EWA) had been directed to conduct studies into green alternatives to power generation. On a smaller scale, but with potential for large energy savings, the EWA has also been running a pilot project in Hidd in which 20 street lights are being operated by solar power in order to test if the technology would work on a wider scale.

Even within the hydrocarbons sector, solar power is playing a budding role. In October 2015, Tatweer Petroleum signed a contract to develop a 1-MW solar plant to supply power to its headquarters building and other facilities on the Bahrain field. Power from the solar farm will be connected directly to Tatweer’s grid and is expected to supply up to 10% of the firm’s power needs when it comes on-line in spring 2016.

Green Watchdog

As opportunities for renewables pilots and projects continue to grow, Bahrain is planning to create a new watchdog body to oversee the green energy sector. According to a statement by Abdul Hussain bin Ali Mirza, the minister of energy, a proposal to establish a National Renewable Energy Regulatory Authority has been presented to Bahrain’s Legislation and Legal Opinion Commission. Mirza told local media the new organisation would be an independent body tasked with creating a transparent regulatory regime that would attract investment in solar and wind farm projects.

Waste Energy

In May 2015 Bahrain’s government received several bids from firms and consortia tendering for a contract to convert hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste into power, with at least one bidder combining a desalination option. The $480m contract would see 390,000 tonnes of waste per annum disposed of in a process that could generate 25 MW of electricity, which would then be fed into the grid. The plant is to be built on a build-own-transfer basis, and according to Middle East business intelligence source MEED, nine bids were submitted to the Ministry of Municipalities and Urban Planning Affairs from groups including Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power, France’s Suez Environment and Keppel/EAG, a Singapore-Malaysia consortium. The project was first tendered in 2008, but later cancelled. At the time, France’s CNIM Group won the contract. According to a waste industry journal, Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power has submitted an alternative bid to include the provision of desalinated water as well as power. ACWA’s bidding consortium reportedly included Beatona, a local waste management company and FCC, a Spanish infrastructure firm. ACWA Power has IWPPs and desalination plants producing 2.4m cu metres a day.

Egypt Deal

Alongside domestic projects, renewables firms are also looking for international opportunities, and are finding themselves competitive. In March 2015 Bahrain-based solar power firm Terra Sola signed a memorandum of understanding for a $3.5bn build-own-operate-transfer project in Egypt for a 2000-MW solar power plant. The company’s chairman, David Heimhofer, said the project is expected to generate annual revenues of $760m. Terra Solar was one of three companies bidding to build the solar energy station for Egyptian Electricity Holding Company. The company says the project will create 1500 jobs during the construction phase and support 1000 jobs on completion. The contract includes the construction of a factory to produce PV panels. Egypt aims to use renewables to generate 20% of its energy.

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The Report: Bahrain 2016

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