Total had a 20% stake in Shams, the largest concentrated solar power plant in the world, which is now operational in the UAE.

Global energy major Total sees prospects in Qatar’s solar energy initiative as the country has set a target to meet 16% of its production from renewable energy by 2018, a senior company executive has said.

According to Arnaud Chaperon, Total senior vice-president (New Energies Division), Qatar looks at a renewable energy capacity of 1,800 megawatts (MW) by 2018.

The capacity was announced by Qatar’s Food National Security Programme with bid rounds expected in 2013.

“Middle East governments are seeking new ways to generate power to face a strong increase in the power demand,” he said at a briefing for GCC-based journalists at the Le Meridien Etoile in Paris.

Besides the growth in energy demand, he said the key drivers for solar energy development, GCC region in particular, were the political willingness to diversify energy mix, commitment to reduce carbon footprint, favourable financial situation and competitiveness of a solar facility as opposed to a fuel power plant.

Chaperon said Total had gained “significant expertise” in solar energy development with the company acquiring a majority stake (66%) in California-based SunPower. The US firm is active across the photovoltaic solar value chain, from cell production to the turn-key design of large plants.

Total, he said, had a 20% stake in Shams, the largest concentrated solar power plant in the world, which is now operational in the UAE. With an installed power capacity of 100MW, the plant targets to power some 20,000 homes, meeting the needs of 30,000 people and displace about 175,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

Currently, more than 50 research and development specialists from Total are working on solar technologies, Chaperon said.

The company has signed partnership agreements with globally-recognised research centres such as the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (US), Laboratory for Systems Analysis and Architechure (LAAS), Interface and Thin Film Physics Laboratory (LPICM) in France and Interuniversity MicroElectronics Centre in Belgium.

Asked whether solar energy development was economically viable, the Total executive said: “The costs of solar energy are coming down, year after year. Now it is competitive in some countries. Hence it is not surprising to see more and more countries now turning to solar technology.

“While the world wonders about its energy future, we are actively preparing for it by diversifying our investments in sectors that can supplement oil and gas,” Chaperon said.