Middle East should embrace renewables as oil reserves fall: Conference

Giovanna Dall'Ora, Thursday 26 Apr 2012

Arab forum held in Cairo this week stresses the importance of solar energy for Egypt's future

The Middle East must embrace renewable sources to cope with the region's declining oil reserves, the Arab League's secretary general said this week as representatives from European and Arab states gathered in Cairo to discuss energy co-operation.
''Our energy resources are limited, oil reserves won't last forever and each year it becomes more expensive to get [oil] out of the ground," said Nabil El-Arabi, Secretary General of the Arab League.
"We must start now to study the use of renewable sources and, most importantly, to focus on energy efficiency. The Arab Spring [has] created a new spirit for change in the region." 
El-Arabi's comments came at the opening of the Arab Forum on renewable energy and energy efficiency held from 23-24 April and organised by the Arab League, the EU mission in Cairo and the Euro-Mediterranean energy market integration project (Med-Emip).
Also present were representatives from the European Bank for Reconstruction and the World Bank, European and Arab development banks and investors in renewable energy projects. 
Energy efficiency was one of the buzzwords during the two days, as speakers claimed that better use of resources could cut energy losses in public and private buildings in half.
''It is particularly important to make national governments aware of this aspect,'' the EU Ambassador James Moran said in the opening day's meeting.
"Given the fact that one of the goals is the development of local industry, a higher awareness of energy efficiency could lead to the creation of more jobs."
Moran also pointed out the importance of renewable and efficient energy for Europe, saying it is linked to intiatives against climate change.
In the case of Egypt, delegates noted the importance of agriculture to the country's economy and the importance of irrigation and water.
Installing solar panels, even in places otherwise off the energy-grid, would allow farmers to power water pumps with something other than diesel, potentially leading to a 50-60 percent reduction in their energy bills, according to Karm Solar.
The Egyptian company, which came second in the semi-finals of the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Business Plan Competition in Dubai in February, has developed new technology that lets off-grid farms use solar energy to power their high-capacity water pumps.
Speakers also mentioned the gaps in Egypt's electricity infrastructure and problems in storing power away from the regular power grids. Solar power that is generated could be used locally to partially overcome these obstacles, they said.
Moran also mentioned Lebanon, where the government adopted the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan in November 2011, becoming the first Arab country to do so. 
The plan includes a reduction of energy consumption, the target of a 12 percent use of renewable energy sources by 2020 and the adoption of a law on energy conservation.
Jordan and Palestine are also moving in this direction, he added.
Hassan Younes, Egypt's Minister of Electricity and Energy, said the main objective of the Forum was to create a platform for dialogue between government agencies, financial institutions and the private sector. 
This would help define objectives and a legal framework to attract private investments, he said, adding that without political and economic stability in the region there would be no investment.
Libya's Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energies, Awad Al-Barassi, suggested his country could serve as a model. Speaking at the event, he said Libya needs to rebuild its energy resources falling large-scale damage during last year's civil war. Reconstruction would mean new job opportunies, he said.
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