Suppliers use global desert data to spur Middle East growth

Wind turbine suppliers are leveraging global operations data from hot and sandy sites to drive down costs in growing Middle East and North Africa markets, leading firms said at the MENAWind 2016 conference on May 25.

Many regions of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) enjoy high wind resource levels and increasing political support has spurred competition between global suppliers and developers.

Egypt and Morocco have been the fastest growing markets in the region and both countries had installed 800 MW of capacity by the end of 2015.

Low project tariffs in Egypt and Morocco have demonstrated the competitiveness of wind in the MENA region and developers expect new wind power capacity to complement rising solar output, particularly in areas with strong overnight wind resources.

Saudi Arabia has particularly high potential for wind development and the Kingdom's new Vision 2030 Plan sets a renewable energy target of 9.5 GW by 2023.

Saudi Arabia benefits from net wind speeds of over 7 metres per second in some areas and sufficient land area to develop utility-scale plants, according to a recent report by the PWC consultancy and Eversheds law firm.

Major firms like Saudi Aramco and ACWA Power are mulling wind projects as well as solar plants in the transition towards renewable power.

"We see a lot of opportunities in Saudi Arabia...We see more than 20 GW of potential technical wind projects with more than 40% capacity factor," Alberto Gil García Senior Manager, Wind Technology at ACWA Power, told the MENAWind 2016 conference.

Saudi Arabia’s wind sites typically see wind velocity rise in the early evening, remain stable overnight, and fall back mid-morning, García said.

"It makes for a very complimentary case for combination with PV," he said.

Saudi Aramco has also been researching new wind and solar projects as it channels more resources into renewable energy.

“As the renewable program starts to move forward in the Kingdom, [Saudi Arabian] companies are expected to play prominent roles, but we also expect a great deal of international participation,” Tim Polega, Head of Saudi Aramco's renewable energy program, said.

Market penetration

In Egypt and Morocco, project partners have taken advantage of high wind resources to develop large-scale projects and drive down prices. Morocco recently held a wind power tender for 850 MW of capacity and secured average bids at just 3 cents/kWh with the lowest at around 2.5 cents/kWh. In Egypt, some 250 MW of capacity was recently allocated on a build, own and operated (BOO) contract basis at around 4 cents/kWh.

Wind resources in MENA compare favourably with Europe, where wind power penetration has been high, Emad Ghaly, Senior Executive Vice President Wind and Renewables, Middle East, Siemens Wind Power, told the conference.

Wind power generation represents more than 10% of European power capacity and in several countries in Europe it is well above this level, he noted.

"If we look at the average wind speed in those countries, or in Europe in general, I think it's lower than the average wind speed in our region...I believe with our current technology that wind power will play a major role in the future of energy in the Middle East," Ghaly said.


Operational data shows that the latest turbine technology can perform well in harsh desert environments, leading turbine suppliers said.

GE Wind Energy has installed over 1,000 of its turbines in hot, desert areas around the world, Youssef Takki Chebihi, Commercial Leader - Southern Europe, Africa, Middle-East, GE Wind Energy, said.

"We are talking about 98% availability which is very similar to units being installed in other areas," he said.

Filtering systems stop dust and sand from entering nacelles, the number of moving parts is kept to a minimum, and the latest blade protection solutions are applied to optimize performance.

The latest technology allows turbines to operate efficiently in temperatures of up to 45 or 50 degrees centrigrade, but operational strategies can also optimize costs.

Adjusting turbine use during extreme high temperature periods can boost long-term performance and help to limit capital expenditure, Chebihi said.

"It's a trade-off analysis that we need to do for each and every project," he said.

Performing data-led predictive maintenance is also key to optimum performance in harsh environments, he added.

The wind turbine industry has already adapted solutions to cope with extreme low temperatures and as growth picks up in hotter countries, tailored solutions are being delivered, Jean-Pierre Sanchez, Sales Director for Africa & Middle East, Gamesa, said.

"This is just a matter of adapting products that exist to the characteristics of the sites...all manufacturers are doing so because now we are facing markets with those characteristics," he said.

Gamesa has installed 600 MW of wind capacity in Egypt and the firm’s operational experience has shown the industry can adapt effectively, Sanchez said.

"After 10 years of operating there, after 500 wind turbines installed, we haven't changed a single blade in the country... Solutions exist and they work," he said.

Priority data

As more Middle East and North Africa countries look to expand renewables capacity, the rate of development will rely on quality wind resource data.

Comprehensive site data allows suppliers to assess the suitability of technologies and informs project finance decisions.

Some areas still suffer from a lack of wind resource data and this adds uncertainty to project planning and slows development, Chebihi said.

"Sometimes it just makes projects [un]feasible," he said.

Going forward, competition between projects will remain high and technology decisions will need to be made on a site by site basis to ensure that costs continue to fall and wind can compete against other generation types.

The latest tender prices in Egypt and Morocco show what can be achieved with the right mix of wind resources, technology and economies of scale.

Suppliers must build on lessons learnt from harsh project conditions and, as Sanchez told attendees, remain cost-focused.

"There is an enormous pressure on getting a more competitive cost of energy, that needs to be our driver," he said.

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