Ali Kassay Jul 30,2017

In 1894, the Times of London predicted that in 50 years (i.e., by 1950) London would be “buried three metres deep in horse manure”.

The problem of horse manure was so severe in all major cities that the world’s first urban planning conference met in 1898 to discuss specifically this problem, and broke up because no one could think of a solution.

The solution, of course, was the internal combustion engine. But as Murphy’s Law says, every solution creates new problems, and petrol-fuelled cars became a major source of pollution.

Anyone who gets caught in the Amman traffic behind a truck going uphill, with a billowing cloud of black diesel smoke trailing behind it, is left in no doubt that this is true.

But now it seems that the internal combustion engine may soon become a museum piece.

Last week, Britain announced that it would ban all new petrol and diesel fuelled cars and vans by 2040. This follows a French announcement to the same effect, which itself came one day after Volvo announced that it would only make electric or hybrid cars as of 2019.

Norway is way ahead, with the highest penetration of electric cars in the world, and it plans to allow the sale of only fully electric cars by 2025; Holland is contemplating a similar move.

India, where air pollution has reached a dangerous level in many cities, also studies plans to sell only electric cars by 2030.

This may ring alarm bells for oil producers, but how does it affect Jordan, one may ask.

The answer is that water and energy are the two biggest challenges facing the country, and now that electric energy has started to penetrate the transportation industry, it is only a matter of time before demand for electricity, already high, rises exponentially.

How will we address this challenge?

The obvious solution that is here and now is renewable energy, mainly solar. In a 2008 study, the Centre for Global Development reported that solar power in the MENA region has the potential to meet 50 to 70 per cent of global electricity demand.

Jordan is within this sun belt, with an average solar radiation of between 5 and 7 kilowatt-hour (kWh) per square metre. And the benefits are not limited to generating electricity.

The Shams Ma’am project, for instance, recent as it is, has already spawned off a centre to train technicians in renewable energy, to meet the security and maintenance needs of large solar plants through local labour, which is crucial for a region with 17 per cent unemployment.

But why do we think only in terms of large-scale projects?

If we offer incentives, such as reduced musaqqafat (property tax) to properties (and electric car recharging stations) that install PV cells to satisfy all or part of their electricity needs, this will relieve the Treasury within five years of a major part of its imported energy bill.

Great achievements are an accumulation of little successes, each building on the other.