Saturday, March 8, 2014

2014 Will See Growth in Solar Power Industry, UAE Expert Says

Vahid Fotuhi, head of strategic advisory at Access, a project-development company focusing on power and water, looks back on 2013 and is pleased with the advances made in his industry over the past 12 months. Satish Kumar / The National
Vahid Fotuhi still remembers the observation that moved him towards a career in solar power.

In 2007 Mr Fotuhi began with BP’s oil trading division in Dubai as an analyst, where he was involved in quantifying the region’s fossil fuel exports.

By 2009 he had noticed a shift in the movement of oil and diesel, with tankers carrying fuel into the Arabian Gulf countries, rather than just exporting from them.

“At first it was only a trickle, a few ships coming to the region, but then we saw the trend explode where every year you would have a doubling of quantities,” says Mr Fotuhi, a Canadian of Iranian descent.

An economist by training, he knew this was not sustainable as oil producers needed increasing amounts of fuels to satisfy domestic demand and were paying international prices importing it.

“It reached the point where a country like Saudi Arabia was importing a million tonnes of diesel every month for the whole summer, costing them US$1 billion [Dh3.67bn] a month, just in terms of import fuel cost,” Mr Fotuhi says.

“That is when I made the jump.”

He was convinced that with their abundant solar resources, Gulf states would eventually consider solar power to respond to rising energy demand.

So in 2009 he started a solar division within BP and, with the help of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi, he founded the Emirates Solar Industry Association (Esia) for companies in this field.

But in 2011 BP decided to shut down its solar-energy business, leaving Mr Fotuhi with a dilemma.

He decided to persevere with solar power and now works as head of strategic advisory at Access, a project-development company focusing on power and water.

Looking back on the year just gone, Mr Fotuhi says he is pleased with the advances made in his field over the past 12 months.

In March, Masdar launched Shams 1, a 100-megawatt facility in Madinat Zayed, which is the country’s largest solar plant to date.

In October, Dubai followed with a 13MW solar photovoltaic plant, which uses sunlight to produce electricity.

Next in line in Dubai is a 100MW facility also relying on PV technology, to be built in about three years.

In Abu Dhabi, Noor One, a 100MW solar PV plant is still awaiting approval from the Abu Dhabi Executive Council. Mr Fotuhi says he is optimistic “that in the next few months something positive will happen”.

In September, Esia was renamed the Middle East Solar Industry Association, reflecting the regional aspirations of its members. Mr Fotuhi predicts this will be one of growth for the industry.

“I am bullish and I think the slow march will pick up pace and you will see more capacity installed across more countries in the Middle East,” he says.


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