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Crown prince keen to catch up after slow start on green energy

The land scarce nation of Bahrain aims to step up efforts to accelerate rooftop solar and offshore wind projects
  • Bahrain aims for net zero carbon emissions by 2060
  • Country has third largest per capita CO2 emissions in the world
  • More ambitious targets for renewable energy ‘are essential’

At a time of heightened global pressure to cut carbon emissions, many Gulf countries are racing to develop their renewable energy credentials.

Bahrain, however, has been one of the slower-moving actors, and still relies on conventional fuels for almost all of its electricity. 

The country had a mere 12mw of renewable capacity in 2021, just 0.1 percent of its total electricity generating capacity, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. 

There are grander ambitions though. The National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP), issued in 2017, sets a target for renewables to account for five percent of electricity capacity by 2025, rising to 10 percent by 2035.

In practical terms, this means Bahrain needs to install 255mw of renewables by 2025, increasing to 710mw by 2035. In the longer term, it’s optimistically aiming for net zero carbon emissions by 2060 for domestic activity.

Not everyone is impressed by these aims. The government of Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa – who became prime minister in November 2020, after the current targets were set – is rumoured to be considering a plan to double the targets to 10 percent by 2025 and 20 percent by 2035.

Industry observers agree that faster action is needed. “Renewable energy is not an option, it’s a necessity, but we need more ambitious targets,” says Abdulla Alabbasi, a renewable energy expert at the Bahrain Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies (Derasat).

“Bahrain is one of the smallest states in the GCC and, unlike Saudi Arabia and the UAE, we don’t have the necessary funds to make the change to renewables.”

Bahrain may be small, but like its GCC neighbours, it accounts for a disproportionate amount of carbon emissions. According to the World Bank, Bahrain has the third largest per capita CO2 emissions in the world, behind Qatar and Kuwait. 

But one advantage of being small is that its modest targets should be easier to reach. Hitting its renewable energy goals will involve installing a mix of solar, wind and waste-to-energy capacity, with the majority being solar.

Setting higher targets: Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa became prime minister in 2020

The NREAP sets out a few key areas for development, including 100-150mw from rooftop solar and wind turbines in urban areas, and 50-100mw from large solar plants, although the opportunity for large schemes is constrained by the country’s size.

To address the problem of land scarcity, the NREAP also points to the potential for offshore wind.

Since the plan was developed, there have been a few key developments.

In February 2019 a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Acwa Power won a contract for a 100mw solar photovoltaic plant on the Askar landfill site. It is not clear how far the project has progressed – Acwa did not respond to enquiries from AGBI.

Smaller installations are also moving forward. Aluminium Bahrain is developing a 5mw solar plant and the Sustainable Energy Authority (SEA) recently tendered for a series of rooftop solar projects, including 5mw at the Ministry of Education and 3MW at the Bahrain International Circuit. 

Yellow Door Energy is installing a 6.2mw rooftop solar system on Majid Al-Futtaim’s Bahrain Mall and a 4.7MW solar plant for industrial company Imerys Al-Zayani.

Solar Panels, Electrical Device
Bahrain rooftops harvest solar energy

Local manufacturing

At least some of the solar panels around the country are made locally, by Solar One. Since being set up in 2017, with backing from government agency Tamkeen, the company has worked with more than 100 customers in five countries.

Its panels have also been installed on the rooftops of the Ministry of Justice & Islamic Affairs and Al-Raja School. 

Ambitions to build waste-to-energy (WTE) plants have made slower progress.

A WTE plant at Askar was suggested in 2010 but has faced numerous setbacks and the Ministry of Works, Municipalities Affairs and Urban Planning is currently trying to line up a developer.  

A proposal for a 15mw sludge incinerator at Tubli also appears to be moving slowly. In September 2018 a consortium including Germany’s WTE Wassertechnik  signed up to expand an existing wastewater treatment plant and build the incinerator.

It was due to be completed by 2021 but there have been no recent updates. WTE did not respond to requests for comment.

There has been even less progress with wind projects, despite its potential.

“It’s very difficult to have wind turbines onshore in Bahrain, because you need open space,” says Alabbasi.

“An offshore wind atlas has been drawn up though, and it shows there are several places with potential for wind turbines, especially in the north.”

If Crown Prince Salman does decide to accelerate the pace of renewables, the government may need to have another look at such ideas.