Basel Burgan

The Jordanian National Master Energy Strategy of 2007 proposed a mix of energy resources to divert Jordan from dependence on energy source imports. This mix comprises gas, oil, oil shale and renewable energy (RE).

The study also proposed the introduction of nuclear power for as little as 6 per cent of the overall mix.

In 2008, the Jordanian Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) was created and immediately after started advocating 2,200MWe, which is equal to 40-50 per cent share of the grid by 2025, at a 6 per cent growth rate.

This percentage is above the international norm of below 20 per cent of any grid, with the exception of France. This quasi-standard is applied worldwide due to abrupt shutdowns in nuclear power plants (NPPs) that can destroy the supply and cause a complete blackout if they occupy a high share of the grid.

JAEC continues to advocate that nuclear energy is strategic to Jordan, as our deserts contain uranium and uranium sales will finance Jordanian NPPs, despite three international companies (French Areva, Australian Rio Tinto and Chinese SinoU) having pulled out from exploration contracts after finding the Jordanian deserts to contain “non-commercial quantities” of uranium.

Jordanian environmentalists and political activists refuse the introduction of nuclear power for various reasons, which range from the possibility of uncontainable disasters and leakages to the frustrating fact that eight years have passed without JAEC producing a feasibility study for a project worth $20 billion in infrastructure, water treatment, grid upgrading, construction and commissioning, waste management and decommissioning of site after expiration.

Others lean towards the examples of Germany, Ireland, Denmark and Austria, which are heading towards RE alone, and argue that RE is sufficient for the Jordanian grid, with the eventual capacity to export to the country’s neighbours.

This is what RE can provide to the government of Jordan if its share is increased to 50 per cent of the grid, or even higher and up to 70 per cent, from the insignificant 10 per cent currently planned for the next five years:

— A speedy solution for the energy crisis, since RE projects are commissioned and connected to the grid in less than 24 months from contract signing.

— A sovereign solution, since most RE instruments can be built and maintained in Jordan with minimal need for international expertise.

— An open solution that will avoid dependence on a technology monopolised by very few companies, as in the case of nuclear power plants.

— Local employment will improve tremendously since RE will employ three to seven times more indirect local job seekers than the direct jobs working within an RE project (like metal and glass maintenance, infrastructure construction and maintenance, services of all kinds, etc.).

— RE is a sustainable lifetime source that will not need new infrastructure, but simple spare parts.

— RE is environmentally safe and has the smallest carbon footprint. It will bring cash into Jordan, if the country applies for the global carbon compensation bank.

— RE is a simple industry without a complex infrastructure or major grid modifications and could be connected easily.

— RE is diversified and could be spread evenly over all Jordanian governorates, instead of centralising projects in one area.

— RE projects do not destroy infrastructure but will protect it from the tear and wear of constant transport of fossil fuel (or uranium) from the mines.

— RE will save water since the main supply sources, sun and wind, do not need water in order to operate. Current technologies of solar panels only require dust vacuuming every other month.

— Better than all competing sources of energy, RE electricity has the most stable price. Its contracts for electricity purchase are fixed and can only decrease, never increase, in price.

— Moreover, it will not cost the government any investment input, except for providing transport capacity in new grid lines from different locations all over Jordan.

— RE is currently the cheapest source of electricity on the globe.

JAEC succeeded in convincing authorities that RE will not be able to cover base load electricity requirements as it is intermittent and, therefore, that NPPs are essential to our grid mix.

What JAEC has avoided saying is that there exist many solutions for storing RE energy that are not expensive at all and have been applied in other countries.

A smart grid should be able to manage supply and storage solutions like using molten salt storage (salt liquefied by heat, and producing heat when resolidified); or even pumping water into artificial lakes over the many suitable sites overlooking the Jordan Valley to permit water flow at night and turn electricity turbines.

Most importantly, JAEC neglected the fact that Jordan has the 4th largest oil shale reserves, which are basically rock oils that can suffice Jordan for 1,000 years.

We should not forget the newly commissioned liquefied natural gas (LNG) port, which can supply cheap gas to all currently contracted power stations that are lighting up Jordan.

RE is now cheaper than gas or any other source. The 2nd round of bids for RE electricity in Jordan were as low as JD0.049/kWh from a PV solar provider, while Estonian oil shale was contracted for JD0.083/kWh, and gas generated electricity from the LNG port is expected to cost the National Electricity Power Company around JD0.106 (roughly JD0.066/kWh in gas costs and JD0.040/kWh in production cost).

The Jordanian nuclear project has caused serious setbacks for RE by delaying proposals and limiting RE share to as low as 15 per cent of the grid.

Why should JAEC continue to be funded while unable to provide solutions for raising equity funds for NPPs and failing to issue a bankable feasibility study after eight years?

The writer is president of Jordanian Friends of Environment. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.
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