With the growing realisation of the high cost and and scarcity of fossil fuels and the potential of renewable energy, Qatar is expanding its renewable energy infrastructure and investing heavily in related projects. With a renewed and committed focus on available alternative sources of energy, Qatar, with abundant sunlight all year round, is already looking at solar energy as a viable option. Qatar has already announced plans to set up 1,800MW of solar power capacity by 2020 which is expected to contribute up to 16% of the total power generation. Under a long term programme, Qatar plans to set up 10GW of solar power capacity or 20% of its electricity consumption by 2030 through a series of public and private investments, a study by the Oxford Business Group (OBG) indicates.
In late March of this year, Qatar Solar Technologies (QSTec), a tripartite joint venture between Qatar Solar (a subsidiary of Qatar Foundation), Germany’s SolarWorld AG and Qatar Development Bank, announced that the first polysilicon had been produced at its new production plant in Ras Laffan Industrial City, 80km north of Doha. Polysilicon is a high-purity form of silicon and a key component in a range of solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies. The factory, which is currently in the final stages of being commissioned will have an annual production capacity of 8,000 tonnes and is expected to start exporting later this year. OBG quotes Dr Khalid K. Al Hajri, chairman and CEO, QSTec, as saying that the plant’s polysilicon would initially be for export to meet global demand for high-purity, tier 1 polysilicon. The plant has also been designed with sustainability in mind, possessing 1.1MW of solar generation capacity and waste treatment facilities to recycle excess gases and water.
The projected increase in polysilicon output over time is likely to be matched by growing demand for PV technology. According to the latest “Global Power Industry Outlook” from research consultancy Frost & Sullivan, solar photovoltaic will be the energy sector’s highest growth area this year, with investment forecast to increase by 11.5% to $160bn.
Focus on renewable energy
Qatar will be looking to maintain this momentum in renewable power generation as it continues to pursue its long-term strategy plan, the Qatar National Vision (QNV) 2030, which aims to meet an expected growth in power demand while simultaneously increasing the sustainability of the country’s energy mix. Between 2006 and 2016, power and water consumption recorded annual average growth rates of 10.4% and 7.7% respectively, according to data released by Qatar Electricity and Water Company (Kahramaa), the country’s main utilities regulator. Furthermore, research conducted last year by the Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation, shows that Qatar will need to attract $9bn to its power sector between 2016 and 2020 to keep pace with electricity demands. One upcoming project that is set to fulfil part of this need is a 200MW solar power plant being developed by Siraj Power – a JV between Kahramaa and Qatar Petroleum, which has provided $500m in start-up capital for the project. Construction of the facility is scheduled to start in June, with plans already in place to expand the project’s capacity to 500MW in the future. With both heavy government investment and plentiful sunshine, Qatar’s location is ideal for future solar projects. According to the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN), a United Nations institution, the annual solar energy potential of each square kilometre of Qatari soil is equivalent to 1.5m barrels of oil.
Qatar has also been encouraging the use of solar technology in the urban environment. Several large-scale developments are deploying rooftop solar installations as part of their energy infrastructure, including Mshereib Downtown Doha, a sustainable downtown regeneration project; Lusail City, a planned city on the coast north of Doha; and Energy City, an integrated energy hub being built between Lusail City and the capital.
Five of the FIFA 2022 World Cup stadiums are also expected to use pioneering solar-powered cooling technology.
Under the aegis of QNV 2030, the government has pledged to generate 2% of energy needs via renewable sources by 2020, with innovation and proposed projects extending all the way to the expansive Qatar Rail Development Programme (QRDP), a multibillion-dollar effort comprising construction of a light rail transit (LRT) system in Lusail City, the Doha Metro, and a long-distance passenger and freight railway network, connected to the wider GCC railway via Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
With a total area of 1.2million sqm. at its Ras Laffan site, enabling long-term production to expand to 45,000 tpa (tonnes per annum), the company reports its factory will eventually be able to integrate downstream facilities into its production line, manufacturing solar ingots, wafers, cells and modules, and producing 6.5 GW of solar modules, or enough solar energy to power a large city.
QSTec is now building a 150MW solar module facility and 1.4MW solar farm at its Ras Laffan site, with both due to start operations this year. One of the first projects slated to benefit from new supply of its solar technology will be the multibillion-dollar QRDP.
Solar powered trains
QSTec signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Qatar Railways Company (Qatar Rail), to explore installing solar panels on the state’s rail network. Up to 80 MW of power could be generated when fully implemented, according to QSTec authorities, with the first stage of the agreement expected to study the feasibility of installing ground and roof-mounted PV panels on the proposed 3m sqm rail depot facility, to be constructed near the new airport.
The MoU came after a comprehensive feasibility study, with development of a solar project a key part of Qatar’s efforts to build one of the most energy-efficient railways. The ultimate goal is a four-star rating on the Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS) comprising six certification levels to measure a project’s environmental impact, lifespan and sustainability.