In a 2008 study, the Center for Global Development reported that solar power in MENA has the potential of meeting 50 to 70 percent of global electricity demand.

Solar power offers the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region tremendous environmental and economic advantages. To achieve them, solar power would need a level playing field to gain access to MENA’s electricity industry, Amin Mohseni, a consultant in the FPDCE unit at the World Bank, said in an article on The World Bank Group website.

Removing fossil fuel subsidies would be a necessary first step in this direction, he added. Besides its role in reducing pollution and the export potential to Europe, solar power provides a stable and predictable price as it does not depend on highly volatile fossil fuel markets for electricity generation, making investments in this sector highly desirable, he noted.

While shifting from oil to natural gas is an economically logical strategy for electricity sectors in MENA, it has environmental consequences: 45 percent of current CO2 emissions in MENA are from burning natural gas. "Therefore, a shift from oil to ’renewables,’ mainly solar power, is the most environmentally sound and sustainable option," Mohseni said.

Solar electricity generation is possible in areas with direct normal irradiance (DNI) above 5 kWh per meter square per day, which is true for more than 85 percent of MENA.

In a 2008 study, the Center for Global Development reported that solar power in MENA has the potential of meeting 50 to 70 percent of global electricity demand.

Therefore, it is technically and also economically feasible (albeit on a level economic playing field and over the long-term) for MENA to meet its internal electricity demand from purely solar power, he pointed out.

Furthermore, MENA has the potential to become an exporter of solar energy to Africa and Europe. Europe is an especially ripe and ready market for MENA’s solar power. The European Union’s (EU) energy strategy, as reported in EU-27’s Energy Roadmap 2050 calls for 64 to 97 percent of the EU’s electricity to be supplied from renewable sources by 2050.

Inefficient consumption of energy has had adverse affects on the air quality in MENA, he further said. One industry in particular bears responsibility for such high levels of pollution in the region: electricity, Mohseni noted.

While MENA’s population and GDP have grown at an average annual rate of 2.4 and 5.5 percent between 1981 and 2009, its electricity production has grown by an average annual rate of 7.2 percent, outperforming all other regions such as East Asia (at 6.2 percent) and Latin America (at 4.5 percent).

This rapid growth of electricity production has introduced a significant environmental challenge for MENA because 96 percent of its installed capacity is running on fossil fuels, he said.

Renewables (including hydropower) account for only about 3 percent of its installed capacity, making the electricity sector in MENA one of the least environmentally friendly in the world as share of oil in electricity production is more than 50 percent in some countries in the region, like Yemen (100 percent), Lebanon (94 percent), Iraq (92 percent), Kuwait (71 percent), Saudi Arabia (55 percent), and Syria (50 percent), Mohseni said.