The Paradox of Renewable Energy in Qatar

Omran Al-Kuwari, co-founder and CEO of GreenGulf, delivered a CIRS Focused Discussion lecture on “The Paradox of Renewable Energy in Qatar” on February 12, 2014. The talk was centered on the drivers of investing in renewable energy in the context of Qatar, and how these have been radically transformed over recent years. The Gulf is seen as a single market, Al-Kuwari said, but it is important to point out the differences between the various regional states. “Qatar is a very unique country in the Gulf,” as “it is the only country in the world that you can safely say has enough gas and enough power to supply itself and to export for the foreseeable future.” Qatar is in a favorable position because of its large natural gas reserves, which has provided an increasingly advantageous energy option for a new generation of people.

Al-Kuwari gave a brief historical overview of the Gulf region’s hydrocarbon exploitation efforts. The largest gas reserves in the world were discovered in the North Field between Qatar and Iran about thirty years ago. At the time, this discovery was greeted with disappointment as natural gas commanded little value, and was seen as inferior to oil and other hydrocarbons, which were driving the global economy. However, over the years, as technology advanced, and as environmental issues became more pertinent, “gas became the fuel of choice for power production,” he said.

Currently, “Qatar is the only country in the GCC that could supply all its power—100%—from gas,” meaning that it can exploit its oil reserves purely for export and revenue generation. Other countries in the region like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman rely on oil to generate power supplies to drive their own national economies as well as international ones, and so must divide oil reserves between national needs and international requirements. Such a model, Al-Kuwari argued, is ultimately unsustainable as these countries are burning their own oil, which leads to loss of export revenue, the rapid depletion of the resource, as well as increased pollution. Thus, “renewable energy has become a necessity,” he said. In the Gulf, this is a necessity that stems purely from an economic perspective, regardless of the positive ideological and environmental advantages renewable energy offers. Oil and gas reserves will gradually become depleted, and nuclear energy will take a long time to establish, if at all. Renewable energy is actually the only viable alternative for many of the regional states, as well as international ones.

“Solar energy,” Al-Kuwari said “is low-hanging fruit in the region” because of the large amount of predictable sunlight – on average, the region receives ten hours a day in comparison to only five hours in other parts of the world. Al-Kuwari explained that “solar energy actually fits with our needs…it’s a good match for our region, and it’s a good match for Qatar, and it is easy to implement” because it is a resource that can be used to generate immediate power and does not even necessarily need to be stored. The paradox, Al-Kuwari argued, is why countries in the region have not taken full advantage of this abundant, natural resource and why there is so much sunlight, and yet so little infrastructure geared towards harnessing solar power. This paradox exists for two reasons, he explained. The first is related to the question of cost and the second is related to lack of demand. While these prohibitive reasons were valid in the past, the circumstances have now changed. Due to technological advancements in the area of renewable energies, the costs have now been considerably reduced. Demand has simultaneously been increased because of an increase in population in all the countries of the region as well as an increase in industry and output.

Because Qatar is in a unique position in terms of having excess energy, the decision-makers have the luxury of creating these projects from their foundation in a deliberate and efficient way that makes sense for the future. Importantly, Al-Kuwari noted, “because of Qatar’s long-term interest in becoming more of a diversified economy,” these initiatives are being built from the ground up, and are being established all across the country in a simultaneous and synergistic manner that makes cohesive and efficient sense. Currently, GreenGulf is involved in multiple projects and encouraging the use of solar energy as a highly efficient and clean energy source that will ultimately lead to more awareness and education regarding the benefits of clean technologies.

Omran Al-Kuwari is the co-founder and CEO of GreenGulf, a clean technology and renewable energy advisory business focused on the development and management of renewable energy in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. He is an energy professional with over 10 year experience in the Energy Industry. After joining Qatargas in 1999, Al-Kuwari worked for several joint ventures, Qatar Petroleum affiliates and ExxonMobil in Doha and the United Kingdom. He was General Manager and Director of South hook Gas Company in London until August 2009, Qatar Petroleum’s first major LNG trading venture abroad and the UK's largest LNG importer. Al-Kuwari holds a BA in Business Administration from the George Washington University, and an MBA from City University London. His research has focused on “Renewable Energy in Qatar” in 2010.

Article by Suzi Mirgani, Manager and Editor for CIRS Publications