Minister of Energy Ibrahim Saif on Future Fuels

Jordan’s energy minister is convinced sun and wind power hold one of the keys to energy independence.

By Dina al-Wakeel

Decision makers seem to have finally realized that part of the solution to Jordan’s pressing energy challenge lies in diversifying its energy basket away from a near total reliance on imported fossil fuels.

A string of big solar and wind projects have been launched over recent months that aim to generate 20 percent of Jordan’s electricity needs by 2017.

Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Ibrahim Saif believes renewables have a crucial role to play in gaining greater energy independence for the Kingdom.

Why is the government putting so much faith in renewable energy?

I think it’s extremely important for Jordan to look at the overall sector and to ensure the security of supply. You need to rely on a more sustainable source of energy as well. So renewable in general—solar and wind or bio-fuel—it all falls under this umbrella. We have a strategy that we are trying to adhere to and hope to achieve and it is that 20 percent of electricity generation by 2017 should be from renewables. We have already prepared the institutional structure, the legal framework, and now we are investing in the infrastructure.

You put out tenders for these renewable projects. How much demand was there and will there be a third round?

We had the first round, and it was a little bit expensive but it was a learning process, and we have the second round which was more successful.

Now we are implementing some of the projects. The Tafileh Wind project is fully operating and we hope to see more. We also have other small projects, and some are funded by the government through the Gulf grant.

We will not go into the third round before finishing with the second. We will assess how much we implemented from the first and second rounds, how much excess capacity we have in the grid, and accordingly we will announce if we need more or not. Or we might at least delay, it’s not something definite. It depends how much progress we make from here until 2016.

I’m happy about the process through which we get to these (PPA) prices. [In round two] it’s cheaper for us. It was transparent from day one and it was the private sector who came up with these prices. We are quite satisfied that this reflects how everybody has done their homework.

Most of the renewable projects have been solar. Will we see more wind projects in the near future?

The Tafileh project is now connected to the grid. What we have is a very successful company that secured funding and managed to finish everything, some others are still in the process. This takes two parties: the government which signs the PPA and the developer, and we need both to work together to implement the projects. We recently signed a second PPA for the m. So we are moving, although sometimes there are technical issues and wind projects take time; they have to measure wind for almost two years, they have to find the land, and secure the funding.

Why do you think international companies are keen to invest in these projects?

It means we are doing the right thing and that Jordan is very attractive. Energy projects are long-term by nature, so that also reflects confidence in the future of the sector and the future of our economy.

Overall, how happy are you with what’s been achieved in terms of implementing these projects?

I’m satisfied. It’s an ongoing project. Probably what we need to do is to expedite, to set more tough deadlines for companies that we are dealing with, and also to insure delivery and implementation of these projects to meet the objective of our strategy. Otherwise I think the implementation of the first round has been quite difficult due to the nature of the project; it’s something related to the fact that these are new projects, that we are introducing new legal framework to govern this process and when you start implementation you realize that it needs some exemptions, it needs some support. But if you ask me now I would say that there’s no excuse for us not to move quickly.

Are you past the trial and error phase?

More or less, I think we’ve learned a lot. Probably there are some more lessons that we should learn but I think even at the regional level, Jordan is moving very fast in terms of introducing renewable projects. We always say that we need a kind of a balance between conventional, renewable, and other energy sources.

Investors in renewable projects have called for the grid’s capacity to be upgraded so that it can absorb greater amounts of energy. What’s the latest on plans to create a “Green Corridor” that will enhance the grid capacity?

We will be tendering the Green Corridor before the end of the year. Its cost is somewhere between the range of $150 million to $200 million.

How do you see the future of the sector and do you fear that significantly lower oil prices could divert investors’ attention from renewables?

Renewable energy is sustainable, it is clean. Now of course cheap oil prices will discourage more investment into the sector. But in the long-run we need to diversify the energy mix in Jordan. I can see that we are ahead of many other countries in the renewable field. It was an expensive technology before and now it became a cheap technology. I think we are doing fine, we are one of the pioneering countries in the region.

I think we are adopting the strategy and we are about to achieve the targets, and I believe that the more sustainable, the more diversified the sector is, the more progressive legislation that we have, the more we can achieve and come up with innovative solutions at the green level.