Iberdrola SA is expanding its clean energy business in the Middle East with a 10 million-euro ($12.4 million) research and development center in Qatar.
The Spanish utility is looking to be an early mover in a region that’s investing more in wind and solar power, according to Agustin Delgado, head of innovation and sustainability. It will focus on technologies that integrate renewables onto the grid, digitalize networks and boost energy efficiency.
“The Middle East is a region with a lot of opportunity in the energy sector, but not only in oil and gas,” Delgado said. “We want to electrify the economy, from heating and cooling to electric vehicles.”
While the countries of the Persian Gulf are known for being energy exporters, growing power consumption at home has become an increasingly important economic factor. Until recently, plentiful hydrocarbon reserves and local subsidies discouraged utilities from adapting more efficient technologies. Saudi Arabia still burns about 1 million barrels of oil a day for power and potable water.
The reliance on fossil fuel for electricity is being challenged by ambitious renewable energy programs. Saudi Arabia is pledging $50 billion over the next nine years to try to conserve more of its fossil fuels to sell. Other nations in the region including the United Arab Emirates and Jordan are building utility-scale clean energy projects.
Adding large amounts of intermittent renewables such as solar and wind can create grid instability, creating the need for technologies such as energy storage and digital solutions. Iberdrola has installed 13 million smart meters around the world to date and is looking to apply this experience to the Middle East, according to Delgado.
“Just in Qatar, there are huge opportunities to improve how they consume energy and reduce bills,” he said. “We think we can reduce them by 30 percent, which would be $2 billion every year.”