by Mohammad Ghazal | May 22, 2015

AMMAN — Energy-poor Jordan cannot rely solely on renewable resources to resolve its energy crisis and stem its rising power bill, which consumes 18 per cent of the gross domestic product, according to energy experts.

The Kingdom, which annually imports 97 per cent of its energy needs, has one of the highest annual daily averages of solar irradiance in the world with an estimated 330 days of sunshine per year, while wind speeds in the country are as high as 7.5 metres to 11.5 metres per second in hilly areas, according to official figures.

However, this is not enough for wind and solar energy to be considered a base load source of power, supplying industries and triggering economic growth, the experts said.

They noted that the solution to the energy situation in Jordan is not easy, and relying on diversified sources of energy — including oil shale, nuclear power, renewables, natural gas and conventional fuel types — is probably the optimal solution.

Some, however, say renewable energy can be the major source once there are technologies that make it possible to store power generated from solar or wind-fuelled plants.

“Jordan has made some progress in reaching several deals for renewable projects. The progress is slow, we are on the right track but renewable energy will always be an additional source of power,” said Maher Matalka, chairman of EDAMA, a Jordanian business association that seeks innovative solutions for energy and water independence.

“Jordan should explore all energy options and cannot rely on one source,” Matalka told The Jordan Times in a recent interview.

Before the 2003-US led invasion of Iraq, Jordan heavily relied on fuel and crude oil from Iraq at prices that were almost free. Jordan used to get half of its oil needs from Iraq for free and the second half for $9 per barrel, according to Khaled Toukan, chairman of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission.

“After the invasion of Iraq, Jordan resorted to importing natural gas from Egypt… With the unrest that swept the region this also proved unfeasible as Egypt’s pipeline to Jordan was bombed more than 30 times,” Toukan noted.

“Renewable energy can maybe generate 7-8 per cent of a country’s needs but it is not a load base source of power… countries cannot rely on renewable energy to have competitive industries,” he told The Jordan Times this week.

Jordan is in the process of diversifying its energy resources and is currently focusing on building a liquefied natural gas terminal in Aqaba and exploiting oil shale, as the country is home to some 40 billion tonnes of oil shale. But nuclear energy is the needed base load source of power to save Jordan’s energy sector, Toukan said.

By 2025, some 40 per cent of the Kingdom’s electricity will come from nuclear plants. Jordan selected Russia’s Rosatom last year to build the country’s first nuclear power plant with two reactors of 1,000 megawatts (MW) each.

Construction work on the plant is expected to start in 2017 and be completed in 2022, according to Toukan.

At a recent energy conference, Hisham Khatib, honorary vice chairman of the World Energy Council, noted that “the solution to the energy situation in Jordan is not an easy one. Jordan should rely more on coal as a main source of electricity”.

“Subsidy of electricity in Jordan as well as in many other countries of the region is a main problem to the energy sector… Jordan is moving slowly towards the right track,” he said.

“Resorting to liquefied natural gas for generating power is expensive and renewable energy cannot solve the energy problem… as this source of energy will always be marginal,” Khatib added.

Some countries, including Portugal, generate all their electricity from renewable energy projects on certain days. But countries cannot rely only on this source for industries and their economy, according to Alexandre Vale, managing director of R5 Renovaveis, an energy consultancy firm.

“On certain days, Portugal managed to generate 100 per cent of its energy needs through renewable projects, but this is not enough as the country also uses gas and traditional fuel for power generation,” Vale told The Jordan Times in a recent interview.

“The problem with renewable energy is at present the generated power cannot be stored… once there are advanced large-scale solutions to store this generated power, it can be relied on as a main source to supply industries and boost economic growth.”

Environmentalists, however, call for further adoption of renewable energy.

“Renewable energy is a clean and cheap source of energy as there are more technologies nowadays that make generating power from solar or wind feasible. It just needs true willingness. Jordan has plenty of sunshine that is not available elsewhere and this is a local cheap source,” said Ahmad Kofahi, head of the Jordan Environment Society.

According to energy officials, several renewable energy projects with a total capacity of 1,800MW will be connected to the national power grid by the end of 2018. The country’s energy strategy targets a 10 per cent renewable energy input into the energy mix by 2020.