Louise Sarant
Tue, 24/04/2012

The world famous Arab League amphitheatre was filled yesterday with electricity and energy ministers from various countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including Egypt’s Hassan Younis, international donors, investors and bankers, all gathered to brainstorm about renewable energy in the region.

All the speakers in the morning session of a two-day forum, dubbed “The Arab Forum for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency,” put special emphasis on PPPs (or Public-Private partnerships), seen by all as the key to an efficient launch of renewable energy projects. The forum started yesterday and continued today.

“To attract private investors in alternative energies, we need to fulfill some key demands: first, we need a stable political and economic situation to mitigate uncertainties and financial risks; and second, we need a clear regulatory framework on renewable energy,” said Younis during the session. “What we need from the private sector is a guarantee that they will be involved in fair market competition,” he added.

The Head of the EU Delegation to Egypt, James Moran, agreed that the top priority to attract investors is “to get the regulatory framework right.” If regulation is strong, a climate of confidence will be instilled that will trigger technology transfer, in turn spurring growth in scientific and technological capacities in the region, he said.

Sitting between his Libyan and Palestinian counterparts, Awad al-Baraasi and Omar Kittaneh, Younis stressed that “it is only with the help and support of the private sector that we can embark on exploiting alternative sources of energy.”

In Palestine, 76 percent of households are equipped with a Solar Water Heater (SWH), Energy Minister Kittaneh explained. First introduced to Palestine in the early 90s, these solar devices’ tremendous popularity is explained by their power to counterbalance Israel’s energy supplies.

“Palestine’s experience is very advanced, said the minister, and this breakthrough in solar water heaters has created environmentally-friendly citizens, driven by necessity, he explained, adding that “Israel can cut energy supply routes but not prevent the sun from shining.” He insists on the importance of energy self-sufficiency and told Egypt Independent that every Palestinian needs to become an energy producer.

Awad al-Barassi spoke about Libya’s new path to alternative sources of energy, stressing an interesting semantic change that has occurred. “The ministry I head is now called the ‘Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy,’ which shows a clear dedication to new sources of energy as well as a clear cut from the past regime’s attitude towards resources,” he said. After the immense destruction of the energy networks in Libya during the war, the new government is currently rebuilding it with the clear intention of tapping into various energy sources, solar and wind included.

Barassi joined Younis in emphasizing the importance of the PPP, “because the government is shifting away from Qadhafi’s strong attachment to the public sector, where every major project was decided without feasibility studies.”

Barassi also stressed the importance of building stronger partnerships between universities and the industrial sector in the MENA region, as well as the creation of renewable energy curricula in universities to form local specialized engineers. This “Pan-Arabism” was also one of the keywords that emerged from this meeting, with Younis insisting that “Arab countries pass similar, if not identical, renewable energy legislation.”