Bahrain's recently launched solar energy project is a praiseworthy effort aimed at alleviating the increasing pressure on traditional energy sources used in power generation, observers told Al-Shorfa.
Bahrain's Ministry of Energy announced on May 21st that the National Oil and Gas Authority plans to launch a solar energy pilot project in Awali that will generate five megawatts of electricity, enough to provide all the power needs for the community of 1,800 residents.
Professor Waheeb al-Nasser, vice president of the University of Bahrain for Planning and Development and vice president of the Bahrain Astronomical Society, said the timing of the solar energy pilot project is appropriate given Bahrain's need to diversify its clean and non-oil based energy sources.
"Bahrain needs to install 40 million solar modules to generate the equivalent of 4,000 megawatts of electricity, which would provide the country with a major source of electric power and create green jobs for Bahrainis," al-Nasser said.
He said Bahrain is capable of utilising solar energy considering the year-round high temperatures. More than 150 local studies recommended that the kingdom make the transition towards the use of solar, wind, and alternative energy sources.
"We need fully integrated solar module systems installed on the rooftops of homes and factories by [specialised] companies, training of qualified crews on the installation and maintenance of solar power equipment, electricity distribution networks between primary and sub-stations, and a reduction in the use of conventional batteries," al-Nasser said.
A scientific approach to renewable energy
Dr. Akbar Jafari, an economist and chief executive officer of JAFCON, a business consultancy, said solar energy utilisation began in Bahrain in 1973 when the region explored non-oil alternatives in light of the limited drilling of petroleum products and the volatile fluctuation in oil prices.
"Bahrain took the initiative [in utilising] renewable energy in the early 1980s by building a solar powered gas station in Manama. However, the experiment faltered and was discontinued. Now the government is taking a methodical and scientific approach," Jafari said.
He said the new pilot project will be a good indicator of the experiment's readiness to be introduced in all regions of the kingdom to maximise its benefit.
"In a country with limited oil resources, we must accelerate the process of adopting solar energy as an environmentally friendly and efficient alternative source of power generation and must limit the extraction of available oil to the production of high value products only," he said. "The solar alternative has been proven scientifically and practically to be an environmentally friendly, low-cost alternative."
Mohsin al-Saffar, an alternative energy applications expert, welcomed the move by the National Oil and Gas Authority.
"The earlier we start implementing solar energy applications, the sooner we fill the gap that separates us from other countries that have made giant strides in this field," he said.
In al-Saffar's view, the success of solar energy depends on whether a firm political decision can be made to implement it both locally and regionally.
"Fossil fuel reserves are destined to be depleted sooner or later. We need to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy sources and clean alternatives with solar energy being the most prominent among them so far," he told Al-Shorfa.
Al-Saffar said the new pilot project is capable of being replicated in all parts of the kingdom, especially since the cost of investing in solar modules is low.
According to the Electricity and Water Authority, Bahrain reached its maximum available power generation capacity in early May with consumption reaching 1,878 megawatts out of a total available capacity of 3,463 megawatts, the highest consumption level recorded by the authority in 2012.
The authority expects demand for electricity to reach 3,000 megawatts during the summer months, from July to early October, when temperatures rise to 45 degrees Celsius and above.
Bahrain relies on four power generation sources, including Bahrain's Electricity and Water Authority with a daily average of 725 megawatts, the Hidd power plant with a production capacity of 929 megawatts, the al-Ezzel power plant with capacity of 946 megawatts, and the al-Dur power plant with capacity of 987 megawatts.