Report from WFES 2019: MENA Solar Market Reaches Inflection Point

By on January 24, 2019

Photo Courtesy of Middle East Solar Industry Association, 2019

ABU DHABI—We’ve been hearing about the vast potential for solar power in the Middle East and North Africa for awhile now, but this year’s World Future Energy Summit (WFES) may have coincided with a real inflection point, where overhyped growth projections have started to turn into gigawatt-scale deployment. The MENA pipeline needle is rapidly moving in the direction of real investments and project execution. In fact, there are more than 12 GW of solar projects that have either been awarded, are under construction or in operation in the region, according to the 2019 Solar Outlook Report issued recently by the Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA).

WFES grouped together a variety of events and conference themes for the more than 34,000 attendees, covering the sustainability spectrum from renewables and mobility to green buildings, water and eco-waste—along with a healthy exhibit hall where NEXTracker and some 800 other companies and organizations took part.

NEXTracker Chief Commerical Officer, Marco Garcia with representatives from Power China @WFES 2019

This year, we had dozens of meetings at the show with customers, module suppliers and utilities in the region. Our discussion topics included comparisons of framed versus frameless compatibility of bifacial PV modules on trackers, the combination of solar plus storage, the use of robotic cleaning systems on trackers (sandstorms and environmental conditions are a major O&M concern in the region), and the establishment of long-term solutions for regional supply chains that address lifetime return on investment and O&M viability and bankability.

Longtime NEXTracker partner, Nuno Andrade from Metalogalva Steel and Tamer Kalo from our newest KSA-based steel supplier, Al Babtain learning about key aspects of NX Horizon from NEXTracker CSO, Marco Garcia

WFES has come a long way since I first attended in 2016, when visitors to our booth would ask what a solar tracker was and if it could be mounted on rooftops.

With Wood Mackenzie/GTM Research anticipating more than 10 GW of large-scale solar projects being deployed in the region in 2020–and 82% of those tabbed to be single-axis tracking-based ground-mount sites — the market has grown up and become more sophisticated. The research group singles out Saudi Arabia and Egypt as two of the fastest-growing global market sectors over the next five years—both countries where NEXTracker has already scored significant contracts as part of our nearly 1 GW pipeline in the region.

NX Horizon in Jordanian desert, in partnership with Mustakbal, powering the local Kempinski Hotel and Al Khalidi Medical Center.

The Saudi solar market in particular looms as the one of the largest of all. Speaking at the WFES Future Sustainability Summit, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources (MEIM), Khalid A. Al-Falih, told the audience that the kingdom, as part of its “green roadmap,” will see rapid development of more than 58 GW of renewable energy projects over the next decade, with 40 GW of that development pie going to solar PV assets.

NEXTracker’s first Saudi foray, the 300 MW Sakaka solar project under way in Al Jouf, has already made headlines. It’s the first successful utility-scale project awarded by the Saudi Renewable Energy Project Development Office, generating a private sector capital investment of $302 million and creating more than 400 local jobs. ACWA Power received the world’s lowest tariff (a jaw-dropping 2.342 cents/KWh) through a 25-year PPA–the first of its kind in the kingdom–with the Saudi Power Procurement Co.

In recognition of our “combination of bankability, local content manufacturing capability, and optimized tracker design for rapid installation of the project,” NEXTracker won MESIA’s “Utility Scale Solar Project of the Year” award for our work at Sakaka.

MESIA Award winners 2019. Photo courtesy: Middle East Solar Industry Association.

Our customer ACWA Power also earned an award as “Regional Company of the Year” at the MESIA ceremony.

WFES 2019 ended on an exuberant and optimistic note. Like other solar markets coming of age, the MENA region has seen a significant shift in attitude by the utilities and power companies, which have gone from seeing solar as an expensive gimmick to a resilient renewable energy juggernaut that can economically compete with more traditional sources of energy—and provide a sustainable decarbonization alternative to the oil and gas status quo.