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Jordan—pick and mix

Jordan needs to expand its power-distribution system as it becomes one of the most advanced Arab states in developing renewables

The Jordanian authorities, in seeking to further diversify the country's energy mix, have been looking at developing other oil shale reserves, notably at al-Laijun, to the south of Apco's project at Attarat um Ghudran. Discussions over the possibility of another oil shale/power project here have continued for some years. The outcome of Apco's venture is likely to determine when and how the country's deposits are exploited from now on. Oil shale doesn't constitute clean energy. But for a country without its own oil and gas reserves, exploitation of this natural resource as part of the energy mix makes sense.

Another plan that's been on the drawing board for several years is one to develop a nuclear power plant. But the costs involved and in particular the shortage of water are likely to remain immovable obstacles in the near-to-medium future. For the time being, Jordan can cut down on the import of oil for power generation because since 2015 it's been importing cheaper and cleaner liquefied natural gas through a floating storage and regasification unit at Aqaba at the northern end of the Red Sea at a rate of 2m tonnes a year. The cost of importing oil dropped accordingly from $5.5bn in 2014 to $3.1bn in 2015.

At present, imported natural gas accounts for more than 80% of electricity generation in Jordan. While pipeline supplies from Egypt, upon which Jordan once relied, have halted, the government is still hopeful that an agreement to import 3bn cubic metres a year of natural gas from Israel will eventually be implemented, despite strong popular opposition among Jordanians.

Jordan's big hope for the future is the development of renewables, a process that's well under way. The Jordanian government's green-energy supremo, Rasmi Hamzeh, says the kingdom rivals Tunisia as the leading Arab country in this regard. Under a programme drawn up in 2015, Jordan's target is for renewables to account for 20% of the state energy mix and 10% of power generation by 2020. "Things are progressing at speed," he added, "and I believe we will meet this target by the end of 2018." By 2030, Jordan hopes that renewables will account for 30% of its energy mix.

Proving its commitment to a green future, Hamzeh's Jordan Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Fund will be moving from its current offices on the 6th floor of the creaking energy ministry building in Amman to new premises that are self-sufficient in power. Hamzeh himself is in a confident mood. "The past four years have been a great success story," he says. "The first round of renewables contracts has been completed, the second is in the implementation stage and third is under offer." By the end of this year, Jordan expects to award further solar and wind projects that will add 300 megawatts of electricity to the national grid. By 2020, he says, solar and wind power will produce 1,600MW.

A lot to learn

Hamzeh concedes that it's been a fast learning curve for Jordan. "In the first bid round, we discovered a lot of gaps in the rules and regulations that we needed to fill. And we were helped a great deal by the private-sector companies that came in to develop the projects. They discovered some of the problems on the ground. But now we're up and running with an efficient and transparent system."

In one of the latest developments, financial close has been achieved on the $76m Mafraq I solar plant in the north of the country. This photovoltaic unit will produce 50MW of electricity. A string of private-sector solar and wind projects is accounting for a rapid expansion of renewables—so rapid, in fact, that the grid is struggling to cope. "Grid capacity is one of our main problems," Hamzeh says. "It's not easy, because it involves a lot of money and thousands of donums of land." (A donum is roughly equivalent to an acre.) He added that while the government was "taking the main responsibility for expanding the grid, the hope is that private-sector ventures will partner" the state in contributing to this enterprise.

The Jordanian government also lists a range of financial incentives for businesses and homes to become greener in outlook. Hamzeh said that 100 solar water heaters were being installed on houses each day, along with dozens of photovoltaic panels to generate electricity. But speaking to Jordanians and reading social-media comments, the picture looks less rosy. Many people speak of unexpected hidden cost and taxes.

NGO Edama (meaning in Arabic "sustainability"), agrees that "movement towards a green economy is an ambitious" goal. In short, "the evolution of Jordan's energy sector is a marathon, not a sprint". Pacing itself for the long run may be the next lesson awaiting Jordan's unstoppable enthusiasts for renewables.

This article is part of a report series on Jordan. Next article is: Jordan—rocks to watts 

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