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Middle East renewable capacity doubles but the region is lagging

A worker at Shams Solar Power Station in Abu Dhabi. Solar's share of renewable energy in the Middle East has soared over the last decade Alamy via Reuters
A worker at Shams Solar Power Station in Abu Dhabi. Solar's share of renewable energy in the Middle East has soared over the last decade
  • Renewables more than 35 GW
  • Solar now largest contributor
  • Behind Asia, Europe and America

Renewable energy capacity in the Middle East has more than doubled in the past decade, with Iran and the UAE leading the way – but the region remains a bit-part player globally.

New figures released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) show that regional capacity rose from just under 16 gigawatts to more than 35 GW between 2014 and 2023. 

A single gigawatt is equivalent to 1,000 megawatts or 1 billion watts.

However, despite 17 percent growth compared with 2022, the region still accounts for less than 1 percent of global capacity and only the Central America and Caribbean region has a smaller share.

Asia, which boasts more than half of global renewables capacity, generates nearly 2,000 GW, while Europe and North America generate 787 GW and 530 GW respectively.

Asia also accounted for most of the new capacity added during 2023, increasing its total by 328 GW, while Europe added 72 GW.

Over the decade, the Middle East’s renewable share of total electricity capacity has increased from 5.9 percent to just below 10 percent.

Iran has the biggest capacity, with more than 12 GW, although growth has been relatively slow over the review period, increasing by less than 2 GW.

By contrast, the UAE has experienced a surge in renewable energy capacity, increasing from just 133 megawatts (MW) in 2014 to more than 6 GW last year.

Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel have also seen accelerated capacity growth while Iraq’s capacity has fallen from 2.3 GW in 2014 to about 1.6 GW last year.

The figures reveal that Bahrain and Kuwait are lagging behind, with less than 200 MW of capacity combined last year.

Last month, Kuwait announced a new 20-year renewables strategy but experts told AGBI the country still has a way to go on its energy transition.

Irena said 2023 set a new record in renewables deployment globally by reaching a total capacity of 3,870 GW.

The 473 GW of renewables expansion last year was led by Asia with a 69 percent share, driven by China. 

Globally, solar photovoltaics increased by 346 GW last year – China alone added 217 GW to the total expansion. Concentrated solar power increased by 0.3 GW.

Renewable hydropower capacity reached 1,270 GW while wind power grew at a rate of 13 percent to 1,017 GW and geothermal energy increased by just 193 MW, led by Indonesia.

Francesco La Camera, Irena director-general, said renewables are the “only technology available to rapidly scale up the energy transition aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement".

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