More GCC green energy projects set to tap into capital markets for financing, S&P says

Solar projects are 'more predictable' and carry lower operational risk than other power-generating assets, rating agency says

Solar photovoltaic panels in Abu Dhabi. The UAE is home to some of the biggest solar projects in the world. Bloomberg
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The number of renewable energy projects, including solar plants, expected to tap into capital markets for financing is set to rise in the six-member GCC economic bloc, S&P Global Ratings has said.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia — the Arab world’s two largest economies — have already set up public-private partnership frameworks, making project financing an “obvious choice” for funding, the rating agency said in a report on Tuesday.

“The governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE have announced their intention to continue to invest in this space. We believe plans to establish a renewables sector could help them in their efforts to achieve their climate goals,” S&P said.

The issuance of green bonds to finance climate-related projects grew by 38 per cent in the Middle East during the five-year period to the end of 2020, according to a Boston Consulting Group report.

Middle Eastern governments accounted for about 97 per cent of green bond issuances in 2020 alone, compared with 13 per cent four years earlier, the report said.

The global sustainable finance market, which was valued at $3.65 trillion in 2021, is set to grow further, hitting $22.48 trillion by 2031, growing at a compound annual rate of more than 20 per cent between 2022 and 2031, Allied Market Research shows.

Green bond and sukuk issuances from the GCC hit a record in 2022 at $8.5 billion from 15 deals, compared with $605 million from six deals in 2021, data from Bloomberg’s Capital Markets League Tables showed last month.

The UAE, which is home to some of the biggest solar projects in the world, is investing Dh600 billion in clean and renewable energy initiatives over the next three decades as it aims to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

It is building the Mohammed bin Rashid Solar Park in Dubai with a capacity of five gigawatts.

Abu Dhabi, which is developing a two-gigawatt solar plant in its Al Dhafra region, has set a target of 5.6 gigawatts of solar PV capacity by 2026.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude exporter, is developing several new renewable energy projects as it aims to boost its clean energy capacity and become carbon neutral by 2060.

In September, the kingdom launched five new renewable energy projects with a total capacity of 3.3 gigawatts.

Solar projects, which account for nearly all the renewable energy generation in the GCC, are “more predictable” and carry lower operational risk than other power-generating assets, S&P said.

“Maintenance needs are relatively straightforward, and the technology is not complex.”

As of 2021, solar power accounted for 97 per cent of installed renewables capacity in the GCC, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Gulf countries including Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have also set up wind farms as part of efforts to diversify their energy mix.

S&P said it expects investment in renewable energy for hydrogen production to ramp up in the region.

In January, Abu Dhabi’s clean energy company Masdar signed an initial agreement with four companies from the Netherlands to explore the development of a green hydrogen supply chain between Abu Dhabi and Amsterdam.

Saudi Arabia is building the world’s largest green hydrogen-based ammonia production plant in the kingdom's planned futuristic city.

The green hydrogen project within Neom will use four gigawatts of renewable power from solar, wind and storage to produce 600 tonnes a day of hydrogen.

Hydrogen, which can be produced from both renewable energy and natural gas, is expected to play a key role in the coming years as economies and industries transition to a low-carbon world to mitigate climate change.

The rising share of solar in electricity generation will ease the burden of power subsidies for many GCC countries, S&P said.

“PV plants produce electricity more cheaply than thermal power plants, especially since the Russia-Ukraine war caused oil and gas prices to surge,” said the rating agency.

The planned move to increase the share of renewable assets will not only reduce the cost of domestic power generation, but also free up oil and gas resources for export, it said.

Frequent lockdowns in China, the world’s biggest solar products manufacturer, triggered supply chain disruptions and drove up the prices of solar panels last year.

“Many solar projects have stalled in recent years because of the cost and difficulty of acquiring PV modules over the past two years,” said S&P.

“Sourcing modules at an affordable cost is, in our view, a necessary prelude to off-takers achieving the growth in renewables they expect.”

Updated: March 01, 2023, 12:25 PM