MENA solar power projects pipeline set to double in 2018

The pipeline for solar power projects in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is set to double this year, with Saudi Arabia accounting for more than half of all projects, according to a new report published on Monday by the Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA) and shared exclusively with Thomson Reuters Projects.

The MESIA Solar Outlook Report 2018 report said the pipeline for 2018 will include nearly 13 gigawatts (GW) of solar power projects, with Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems accounting for 90 percent of the project pipeline (11.86 GW) and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) projects making up 1.2 GW.

The 2018 project pipeline is more than double the 5.7 GW forecast in MESIA’s 2017 report, as reported by Thomson Reuters Projects in February last year.
Projects currently in the planning stage amount to 8.7GW, while those at the ‘Bid Stage’ stood at 3.08 GW.

The rest of the pipeline consists of 1.23 GW of projects in the prequalification stage and a 50 megawatt (MW) project in the financial close stage.
According to the report, the low price of solar energy has led policymakers, regulators and industry leaders to take a number of steps to increase and accelerate the adoption of solar power throughout the MENA region.

“Most notably, countries that were late to adopt solar energy strategies and policies have now put forward ambitious targets. Countries with solar plans in place in terms of megawatts installed have substantially increased those targets,” Wim Alen, General Secretary of MESIA said in the report.

“Finally, scaling up the size of solar projects has allowed nations to capture value across the value chain,” he added.

Kingdom tops the league

Saudi Arabia’s 6.4 GW of PV projects accounts for more than half of the 2018 pipeline, followed by the United Arab Emirates’ 1.5 GW of PV, Egypt’s 1.15 GW (800 MW of PV and 350 MW of CSP) and Morocco’s 800 MW (a combination of PV and CSP), the report said.

In 2017, the MENA region had 4,903 MW of solar under construction, 1,142 MW under tender or awarded and 1,363 MW in operation. Oman’s enhanced oil recovery project of 100 MW thermal, which started commercial operations, was mentioned separately.

By comparison, in 2016 the region had 3,610 MW under construction, 1,300 MW under tender and 885 MW in operation, as reported in February last year by Thomson Reuters Projects.

The report said many countries across the region (e.g. Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, UAE) announced plans to increase their solar capacity and are targeting large scale projects in 2018 and early 2019.

The report also flagged volatile pricing of solar panels and increased cost of debt for new projects as top trends to watch out for in 2018.

Alen said while the cost of solar panels is expected to go down over the longer term, panel pricing is expected to be volatile over the coming 18 months due to regulatory and demand changes in both China and the United States.

“However, significant bargaining power is expected to remain with developers of large and mega-size PV projects starting in 2019 and 2020,” he said

Debt relief

As regards project debt, he said infrastructure and renewable energy projects continued to benefit in 2017 from a low-cost funding environment, despite quantitative easing coming slowly to an end.

“We saw interest rates rise in 2017, with three more rate hikes on the horizon in 2018. This will impact, even if marginally, renewable energy tariffs as the cost of lending rises,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the report said the Gulf region has maintained its record-breaking spree in solar tariffs with 2.34 US cents per kWh achieved for Saudi Arabia’s first utility-scale solar PV project, the 300 MW Sakaka IPP, which was awarded to ACWA Power last month.

Last year also saw the start of commercial operations of the 200 MW Phase II of the Mohammad bin Rashid al Maktoum solar park, which gave the region its first world record low tariff of 5.6 US cents per kWh.

Other large-scale deals that reached financial closure in the MENA region in 2017, according to the report, were the Masen 170 MW Ouarzazate IV PV in Morocco and the Sweihan 1GW PV in Abu Dhabi. In addition, a number of PV projects under Egypt’s Feed-in Tariff Round 2 also reached financial closure.

(Reporting by Anoop Menon; Editing by Shane McGinley and Michael Fahy)


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By Anoop Menon, 06 MARCH, 2018

No going back on Saudization plans: Al-Ghafis

MAKKAH — Minister of Labor and Social Development Dr. Ali Al-Ghafis has reiterated that his ministry will enforce the Saudization programs as planned and without delay, Makkah newspaper reported.

The ministry will not renege on any decision, he said during a meeting with the heads of chambers of commerce and industry in the country at the ministry’s offices in Riyadh.

A number of participants called upon the ministry to exempt the private sector from 100 percent Saudization, especially of certain jobs that are difficult to be filled by Saudis. They asked the ministry to form a committee to study any decisions thoroughly before they are announced.

Al-Ahsa Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Abdullatif Al-Arfaj said the ministry would implement all Saudization decisions on schedule despite the fact that it knows that some of the decisions would be tough for some sectors. The ministry believes that these decisions are healthy for the national economy.

“The heads of chambers said they were not against Saudization but have some reservations about the mechanism adopted by the ministry,” Al-Arfaj said.

“These mechanisms will have a negative impact on the private sector and cause many businesses to close down,” he said.

“Business owners have called upon the ministry not to Saudize certain jobs for the time being because there are no qualified Saudis to replace expatriates, especially in the construction sector. However, the ministry insisted that it will implement the decisions as planned,” he explained.

Many businessmen agreed that the ministry can Saudize the industrial sector but the sector will still need the expertise of foreigners, especially in certain areas that Saudis are not interested in. They asked the ministry to create a job bank for industrial jobs.

Al-Arfaj said the presidents of chambers are worried that some of the ministry’s measures and decisions might have a negative impact on the national economy and might delay the achievement of the government’s objectives.


Kuwait expects alternative energy plans be completed before 2030

KUWAIT – Oil Minister and Minister of Electricity and Water Bakheet Al-Rashidi has expected the completion of state plans to depend on alternative energy for producing 15 percent of the country’s power, before 2030.

After the 33rd meeting of the executive commission on rationalization of electricity and water in the state bodies, the minister called in a press statement for cooperation with the Public Authority for Housing Welfare (PAHW) to use photoelectric panels to generate power in the new schools being set up in residential areas.

Many countries have adopted the successful trend, the minister said, referring to coordination with the state bodies, especially in the oil sector.

For his part, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Electricity and Water engineer Mohammad Bushehri said that they had agreed with the Ministry of Public Works to commit contractors constructing the latter’s facilities to install photoelectric panels to provide 15 to 20 percent of each building.

Head of the Ministry of Electricity and Water’s Technical Committee engineer Ali Al-Aidi, lauded the first power rationalization forum held in December 2017 at the Public Authority for Applied Education and Training (PAAET).

State bodies submitted several papers to the forum on renewable energy and power rationalization, he said.

By Staff Writer, Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)
20 FEBRUARY, 2018
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Saudis to spend $9.6bln on entertainment by 2030, authority says

The entertainment industry in Saudi Arabia is poised to boost diversification of the state’s revenues with consumer spending on the sector expected to reach 36 billion Saudi riyals ($9.6 billion) by 2030, a Saudi official said.

Speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai, Faisal Bafarat, the chief executive officer of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority (GEA) said that the entertainment sector in the kingdom is also expected to generate 114,000 direct and 110,000 indirect job opportunities by 2030, according to the authority’s official twitter account.

“We want to put Saudi on the global entertainment map, so keep your eyes open for 2018. The target is to have at least one top tier international event every weekend in 2018,” Bafarat said.
“In 2017, there were more than 2,000 events. We were able to entertain more than 8 million audience, and we managed to enable 149 event providers and vendors,” he added.

Saudi Arabia plans to create a thriving domestic tourism and entertainment sectors to redirect some of the $22 billion Saudis spend on tourism outside of the kingdom back into the local economy. (Read more here).
The kingdom set a clear target to increase household spending on entertainment and cultural activities inside the country from 2.9 percent to 6 percent by 2030, according to its Vision 2030 economic overhaul plan.

“To realise the Vision 2030, there were 12 different programmes, and the key program for entertainment was the quality of life,” Bafarat added.

In December, Saudi Arabia lifted a 35-year old ban on cinemas, and theatres will be able to start showing films next month. More than 300 cinemas are expected to open by 2030, according to the government, contributing around $24 billion to the economy.

(Reporting by Nada Al Rifai; Editing by Michael Fahy)
13 FEBRUARY, 2018

Construction, tourism and jobs growth boost Dubai’s economy

Dubai’s economy recorded stronger business activity in January on the back of faster output and new orders, driven by the construction, travel and tourism and retail sectors.

Emirates NBD’s Dubai Economy Tracker Index rose to 56.0 in January mainly on the back of faster output and employment growth after easing in the previous month. The output/business activity index rose sharply to 61.0 last month, the highest reading since July.

The employment index rose to 52.3 in January, and while this does not indicate a staggering number of new jobs created, the reading is the strongest since November 2015, Emirates NBD in its research note released on Sunday.
The survey results revealed that new orders rose sharply in January although at a slightly slower rate than in December. Stocks of pre-production inventories also increased at a slower rate, as many firms would have boosted purchased in December ahead of the introduction of value-added tax (VAT).

“The impact of the new tax is evident in the sharply higher input cost index [59.2 in January from 51.7 in December]. However, the selling price index only rose 1.7 points last month, to 52.2, suggesting that not all firms passed on the full impact of VAT to purchasers. In fact in the travel and tourism sector, prices were close to unchanged from December, suggesting that the full impact of VAT was absorbed by firms in this sector,” said Khatija Haque, head of Mena research at Emirates NBD.
After a relatively soft fourth quarter of 2017, the travel and tourism index rose to its highest level since July at 55.7. Output surged (58.1 from 52.1 in December) as did new work (58.1). Employment in the sector also increased at the fastest rate since March 2015, with this sub-index rising to 53.5 in January.

The Dubai survey data may seem to be at odds with the whole UAE PMI survey as the index rose while the UAE PMI declined slightly in January. This is likely due to the fact that construction, travel and tourism and wholesale and retail trade, which all posted faster growth in output, new work and employment in January, account for a much bigger share of Dubai’s economy relative to their share of whole UAE GDP.

“The rise in the Dubai Economy Tracker Index signals a strong start to 2018, despite the introduction of VAT putting upward pressure on both input and output prices. The construction sector had a particularly strong month in January, and this supports our view that construction will be a key driver of Dubai’s growth this year,” Haque added.

The wholesale and retail trade sector index rose 1.2 points in January to 56.1, indicating a solid rate of growth, despite the introduction of VAT.

By Waheed Abbas, Khaleej Times
11 FEBRUARY, 2018

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Bahrain retail sector ‘valued at more than $5.8bln’

Country’s retail sector has been growing steadily over the past decade at an annual rate of 13%

MANAMA: Bahrain’s retail market is valued at more than BD2.2 billion ($5.8bln) per year and the sector outlook is positive for 2018 and beyond, finds a new study by KPMG.

Another key finding of the study highlighted in a report titled “Tourism: A Game Changer for the Retail Sector in Bahrain”, is that the country’s retail sector has been growing steadily over the past decade at an annual rate of 13 per cent.

During the 2007-17 period, the increasing population coupled with household income growth, as well as the inflow of tourists from Saudi Arabia, have led to the tripling of retail capacity between 2007 and 2017.

Elaborating on the findings, KPMG in Bahrain head of management consulting Kenan Nouwailati told the GDN that tourism plays a significant role in the performance of retail in Bahrain.

“At least 65pc of tourists in Bahrain arrive from Saudi Arabia, accounting for the dominant revenue share for retail businesses. Cinemas, food courts and family entertainment centres in Bahrain’s shopping malls are the main attractions for the Saudi visitors coming from the Eastern Province and Riyadh.”

According to the report, the 10 largest malls in Bahrain are located in prime areas and account for a total footfall of 51 million visitors per year and enjoy high occupancy levels ranging between 95pc and 100pc.

However, the average number of retail square metres per resident is less than half in comparison with global cities such as New York and Dubai, and is more comparable with cities like Singapore and Hong Kong.

This means the local retail market has still not reached full maturity, which indicates positive signs for growth potential.

“With increasing investment in infrastructure and malls, especially in the Northern part of the island, we expect the sector to continue to grow at the same rate in the next two to five years,” added Mr Nouwailati.

The report also highlighted how tourists’ spending patterns differ, according to the number of days they spend in the country.

On average, tourists arriving via Bahrain International Airport tend to stay four days longer than those arriving through King Fahad Causeway.

Up until 2017, the latter group accounted for more than 90pc of one-day visitors per year.

As a tourist destination, Bahrain has an average length of stay of 2.6 days compared with 4.2 days in benchmark cities, such as Dubai, New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore and London.

Hence, there is a huge opportunity to increase revenues for public and private stakeholders in the retail sector, if tourism, including the number of tourists and the length of stays, are improved.

According to him, if Bahrain can attract an additional 1m tourists and increase the average stay length to 3.6 days, the country could generate BD300m of additional revenue from tourists’ expenditure on the retail sector only.

Looking forward, it reflects on six breakthrough ideas to help grow the retail market through tourism.

They are: Redefining the pillars of the tourism strategy; Enhancing the hospitality offering; Developing new events and festivals; Investing in revenue generating assets; Developing partnerships with travel agencies based in the GCC and Promoting Bahrain online.

By Staff Writer, Gulf Daily News, 06 FEBRUARY, 2018
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Saudi king issues decree allowing women to drive – state media

RIYADH/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Saudi King Salman on Tuesday ordered that women be allowed to drive cars, ending a conservative tradition seen by rights activists as an emblem of the Islamic kingdom’s repression of women.

The kingdom, the birthplace of Islam, has been widely criticized for being the only country in the world that bans women from driving, despite gradual improvement on some women’s issues in recent years and ambitious government targets to increase their public role, especially in the workforce.

Despite trying to cultivate a more modern image in recent years, the driving ban had been a longstanding stain on Saudi Arabia’s international image.

The royal decree ordered the formation of a ministerial body to give advice within 30 days and then implement the order by June 24, 2018, according to state news agency SPA.

38% of startups registered in 2016 are owned by Saudi women

“Since its establishment, the General Authority for SMEs has been working in two directions: Tracking the challenges faced by small enterprises and starting where others have left off,” he said.

“In the first direction, we have conducted several workshops for 2000 enterprises in order to identify their weaknesses, while in the second direction, we have studied the experience of almost 18 countries focused on excellent companies which are likely to have a bright future.”

UAE economic growth forecast to rise to 3-3.5% in medium term

Economic growth in the UAE is expected to increase to at least 3 percent in the medium term on the back of Expo 2020, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s GEMs Macro monthly report.

The bank’s MENA economist Jean-Michel Saliba said UAE real GDP growth is set to fall to 0.9 percent in 2017, from 2.2 percent likely in 2016.

The headline figure masks a likely contraction in the oil sector due to the OPEC deal, but Saliba said he sees non-hydrocarbon real GDP growth picking up to 2.7 percent in 2017, from 2.3 percent in 2016.

The report said Dubai remains committed to fiscal prudence but deficits are likely to widen modestly.

“The Dubai government is likely to have recorded a small budget surplus in 2016. Still, we expect the fiscal balance to shift to modest deficits (1-2 percent of GDP) from 2017 onward as capex associated with the new airport, new metro lines and Expo 2020 come on line,” noted Saliba.

He added that Abu Dhabi appears on track to record fiscal surpluses with oil prices at around $50 per barrel.

Over the next five years to 2022, Abu Dhabi authorities are planning to anchor spending at a flat level of AED250 billion and target increasing revenues through the passage of the introduction of VAT, crude oil production increases and a stabilisation in oil prices.


Saudi tax authority approves VAT Implementing Regulations

Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Zakat and Tax (GAZT) has approved a set of implementing regulations for value-added tax, a press statement said.

The statement said that the authority’s board of directors, chaired by the Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan, had approved the rules, which were were published on the official Saudi gazette Umm Al-Qura on 22nd September 2017. These detail how VAT will be implemented in the kingdom ahead of its official introduction on January 1, 2018.

The regulations build on the GCC Unified VAT Agreement as well as the Saudi VAT Law and they are available on the VAT website, which was launched last month. They are divided into 12 chapters and include 79 articles, covering all VAT-related areas.

The Saudi tax authority has already opened registration for VAT on its online portal and businesses are required to register by December 20, 2017.

“Businesses of all sizes have much to do to prepare for the introduction of VAT and GAZT is ready to support them through the process,” said Suhail Abanmi,  governor of GAZT. “Ensuring businesses understand the implications of VAT – and the steps needed to prepare – is a priority for GAZT. I urge all businesses to look closely at the regulations and their preparations for VAT, and the resources we have developed.”

The authority will impose a penalty of 10,000 Saudi riyals ($2,666) on companies or entities that do not register by the deadline, but it will allow the payment of value-added tax (VAT) charges in installments over a period of up to 12 months, with certain conditions.