20.05.2017

A renewable energy future rests on consensus

First in this month’s special series on the work by FES and partners on climate change and energy policy, we peek into the transformation of the Jordanian energy system for sustainable, social development in North Africa and the Middle East

Along with Morocco, Jordan is one of the model countries in the Middle East and North Africa when it comes to the transformation of energy systems. Nevertheless, an even stronger political will is needed in both countries to move further along the path of renewable energy sources. This begs the question of the key challenges these countries are up against. What are the opportunities to transition towards renewable energy sources and what are the impediments?

The energy system in Jordan is confronted with considerable challenges. For example, in contrast to numerous neighbouring countries, Jordan has scarcely any fossil fuel reserves. As a result, the country has to import 97 per cent of the oil and gas it needs to meet national demand. Moreover, watershed political changes in the region have made it critically important to ensure a secure energy supply. In addition to the 6.5 million Jordanians, there are already over 1 million refugees living in the country. Above and beyond these obvious challenges, there are additional development trends in the country that will tend to cause the demand for energy to climb to even higher levels in the future. Nor should one overlook the shortage of water in the country, which has already reached alarming proportions. Jordan is the third most water-scarce country in the world and the need to install energy-intensive facilities to supply and treat drinking water in the future will pose additional challenges to Jordan's energy system.

All this brings Jordan up against the task of rapidly expanding and revamping its energy system. At the same time, the various aims and objectives need to be coordinated and harmonised. On the one hand, the future energy system must help to reduce the dependence on energy imports and at the same time to ensure the long-term competitiveness of the country with regard to electricity prices. An additional challenge for the country is to use opportunities for industry to profit from a sustainable energy supply, thereby creating new job opportunities. There is a pressing need for a contribution of this nature, as Jordan is also confronted with high levels of youth unemployment. On top of this, Jordan's future energy system needs to be designed to reduce the output of greenhouse gases harmful to the climate in order to meet the responsibility to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels and adhere to its national commitment made at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference.

Thanks to excellent conditions for the use of solar and wind energy, the country is ideally positioned to expand renewable energies. As a result, boosting the share of renewable energies in the production of electricity is also assigned a key role in the country's energy strategy developed in 2007. By the same token, Jordan has set the objective of attaining a 2-per-cent share of renewable energy services and a regenerative share of 10 per cent of the total energy mix of the country by 2020. Most of the projects associated with this effort have already reached the stage of development or implementation, so the country is well on the way to the attainment of this target. The favourable solar conditions that prevail in Jordan already at present allow photovoltaic to be used at the lowest electricity-production costs in the world, making the expansion of this technology especially attractive. In addition, Jordan has instituted progressive laws and regulations encouraging the expansion of renewable energy sources since 2012.

In addition to the positive preconditions, there are also factors that constrain an even more ambitious expansion of renewable energy sources. For one, higher investment costs for renewables and concerns over the future stability of the grid in Jordan prevent a significantly greater expansion. Despite the competitive prices from solar electricity in Jordan, many international and national actors shy away from major investments because the energy sector in Jordan is considered to be plagued by graft and corruption. Moreover, the country is steering towards the launch of nuclear power for political reasons, even though domestic industry does not have the specific technological know-how needed to build and operate nuclear facilities. The corresponding stimulus for job creation from a possible project of this nature must be assessed as very limited; nor has any solution been found to the problem of cooling a possible reactor. The consequences for the sustainable development of the energy system posed by the construction of a nuclear power plant have furthermore only been discussed among broad strata of the population to a very limited extent thus far. With a view to sustainable development of the energy system, a more comprehensive and holistic, all-embracing assessment and comparison of various technology options will be needed in the future, including to avoid future risks as well as bottlenecks in resources and infrastructure.

To nurture the public debate and raise awareness of the challenges linked to upgrading and transforming the energy system, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung together with the Wuppertal Institute have been organizing conferences in Amman with representatives from government, business and civil society for the last three years. At these conferences, experience from Europe, the Middle East and North Africa is pooled and impetus provided for an exchange between experts. The events moreover aim to establish the foundations for the independent provision and exchange of scientifically founded information and the identification of more far-reaching issues of societal relevance. One key aspect underlying the strategy for the events is at the same time to discuss the frequently overlooked social and political dimension of energy policy. Jordan offers a good example of the fact that a just global energy transformation cannot be achieved without a basic consensus in society that takes into account the different interests of the population. ###

Prof. Manfred Fischedick is Vice President of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy and Coordinating Lead Author of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change. Dr. Thomas Fink is Research Assistant in the Research Group for Future Energy and Mobility Structures at the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. Richard Probst is Regional Coordinator for Climate and Energy for the Middle East and North Africa at FES Jordan. For more information on climate and energy policy work by FES in the region, contact fes(at)fes-jordan.org.

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