Jordan and Sudan launch solar projects

Sudanese solar projects could provide children such as these, in Darfur, with access to electricity.
Pic courtesy of the US government

Jordan and Sudan have launched solar projects, drawing them into the growing club of developing countries in the Middle Eastern and African sun belts seeking to harvest one of their most bountiful natural resources.

In terms of their energy needs, however, the two nations offer a study in contrasts.

Jordan, a small, land-locked desert kingdom with insignificant fossil fuel reserves, currently relies on oil and gas imports to supply almost all its transportation  and power generation requirements. Its main challenge is to expand its electricity supply while reducing dependence on fuel imports. Solar power and nuclear development are part of the proposed solution.

Sudan, on the other hand, is Africa's largest country and the third biggest oil exporter in sub-Saharan Africa. But its oil and gas resources are not uniformly distributed throughout an impoverished country that is deeply fractured by political discord, which all too often erupts into civil war.

One of Sudan's biggest needs is to ensure that all parts of the country have access to electricity, regardless of their proximity to oil and gas resources.

In Jordan, a partnership between a domestic company, Kawar Energy, and Italy's Solar Ventures, has announced plans to develop 100 megawatts of solar power capacity by 2012, which could later be expanded to more than 200mw. 

Construction of the US$400 million (Dh1.47 billion) Shams Maan project is slated to begin next year.

Before that, Jordan's National Energy Research Centre will conduct a detailed study of the project site. The development consortium is evaluating available photovoltaic technologies in order to pick the one most appropriate for the region.

Jordan's national energy strategy calls for the installation of 600mw of solar-power capacity and a 1,000 mw wind farm by 2020. The country is also aiming to develop a nuclear plant  by 2015.

In Sudan, the former Darfur rebel leader Minni Minnawi and France's Solar Euromed have signed a contract for the construction of three solar plants in the Darfur region of western Sudan, representing the first stage of a €1.25 billion agreement with Khartoum to build solar plants across the country. 

The broader agreement calls for the development, and construction and operation of an ambitious 20,000mw of solar power capacity in Sudan over the next decade.

The Darfur plants, with a combined generating capacity of 250mw, are expected to start producing electricity in 2013-14.

"The solar programme in Sudan may well become a new world-class model by integrating renewable energy resources in the surrounding land while producing dispatchable elecricity and water," the Sudanese secretary of energy and mining Omar Mohammed Kheir said in March.

It is to be hoped that the solar plants and an electricity grid to connect them will also help provide a foundation for lasting peace in the country.

In their different ways, the Jordanian and Sudanese national programmes to develop low-carbon energy are among the most aggressive in the region, and it would be surprising if they progressed without hitches. They may still develop faster than the generally smaller renewable energy programmes of far richer Gulf oil exporting states. That is because in both Jordan and Sudan, energy development is a pressing, basic human need.