News / Middle East

Yemen Explores Alternative Energy

Vehicles drive past a high-voltage power line tower on a highway south of the Yemeni capital Sana'a February 26, 2010.
Vehicles drive past a high-voltage power line tower on a highway south of the Yemeni capital Sana'a February 26, 2010.
The Republic of Yemen - unlike its oil-rich neighbors on the Arabian Peninsula -- has been forced to explore alternative forms of energy to offset low crude oil production.

But while desperate government officials in the capital, Sana’a scramble to revive an economy shattered by last year’s anti-government uprisings, renewable energy investments remain on the back burner.
 
In the face of the uprisings, the Yemeni government and international actors froze millions of dollars earmarked for alternative energy projects and in many cases redirected the funds to what they considered more urgent priorities.

One such project, a 60 megawatt wind farm in Al Mokha city, had been stalled since Yemen’s political upheavals began, but is “now moving,” according to Wael Zakout, country manager of Yemen’s World Bank office.

Click to EnlargeClick to Enlarge
x
Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge
Located along Yemen’s southern Red Sea coast, the proposed site overlooks the Bab Al Mandeb Strait, a waterway through which more than three million barrels of crude oil shipments sail daily. Currently, Yemen produces about 1,000 megawatts of electricity nationwide -- about a third of consumer demand.  The shortfall is a major cause of chronic power outages that can last for hours, days or even weeks in the more remote parts of the country.

The inconsistent power supply is double edged.
 
“If there was no cutoff, [people] would not buy solar,” says Abdulmajeed al-Wahbani, who sells solar power equipment.
 
The increased sale of solar systems, however, is overshadowed by the fact that the power outages severely limit Yemen’s industrial productivity and economic growth, especially in rural areas.
 
Not surprisingly, as the frequency of the power outages has increased in recent years, so have efforts to address the problem.

Using renewable energy sources could help alleviate the country’s power woes, or theoretically eliminate them, according to Ministry of Electricity figures, which estimate that nearly 35,000 megawatts of wind power and over 18,000 megawatts of solar power eventually could be produced in Yemen.

Pilot projects

On the outskirts of Sana’a, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is developing an experimental greenhouse program that combines solar power with state-of-the-art agricultural techniques to help farmers achieve as much as a 10-fold increase in their crop yields.

The first model greenhouse opened in August and has proven popular, in large part because of its integrated approach. USAID partnered with a local farmers association, which trains members and connects them with equipment vendors. The goal, they say, is to see the ideas and technology gain momentum and eventually spread from farmer to farmer.

“When farmers see the benefits from other farmers, this is a message bigger than [ours],” says Mohmmed Muharram, the agriculture officer at USAID’s implementing partner, Community Livelihoods Project.
 
So far, more than 400 farmers have visited the site, and there were plans to build 12 more in six governorates around Yemen. Yet whether those plans will go ahead is unclear. Muharram says he has been told the program is currently funded only through June of 2013.

Similar community development models have been successful in Iraq, Jordan and Morocco.

Another promising enterprise, which also has been idle for about a year, is called The Rural Energy Access project. It was approved by the World Bank in 2009 and is designed in part to provide solar power to homes in remote areas.

“The off-grid [portion of the] program is expected to provide electricity supply to 18,000 additional rural households, including 3,000 in the fringe areas of the 12 governorates, and 15,000 in the off-grid areas,” says Zakout. “Due to the political crisis in the last couple of years, the implementation was delayed," he added, “but with the relative calm in the country in recent months, the Bank has reopened its program and implementation of this project will start soon.”

Obstacles

Despite the need and interest in such programs, little has changed on the ground.
No participant in the USAID program has purchased a solar system yet, and only four wealthy farmers have installed the latest irrigation technology. That could be because it costs the equivalent of $15,000 for the greenhouse, irrigation system and solar units. The average Yemeni farmer would need funding from either international donors or the government in Sana'a.

And according to Abdulaziz Daer, a general manager at Dome Trading, an energy sector service provider, there is another significant obstacle to renewable energy growth -- the lack of a legal framework for investment. He sees public-private partnerships as a necessary component of Yemen’s power generation plans, but says private companies are reluctant to invest on the commercial scale because there are no legal protections or purchase guarantees from the government.

“The government has to subsidize renewable energy," he concludes.

Adel Abdulghani, the general director of planning and information at the Ministry of Electricity, says that there is a tendency for the ministry to “[address] the problem when it comes." In regard to subsidies on conventional power generation, Abdulghani says that the government has plans to gradually reduce support for conventional power generation, but in the short-term, "you cannot stop subsidizing and take that money for renewable energy; that is practicably impossible."

Governmental and aid groups aside, renewable energy in Yemen faces a host of other challenges, including an unstable security situation, an inadequate power transmission system, low public awareness and the absence of financing mechanisms to help with the high start-up costs.

The U.S. ambassador in Sana’a, Gerald Feierstein, however, says Yemen could be well placed to “leapfrog over other countries” in the region when it comes to renewal energy production. Feierstein recently led a delegation of Yemeni businessmen to the United States to meet with, among others, officials of renewable energy companies. He says Yemen’s relative lack of development in the power sector may, in the long term, actually be of help to those interested in investing in renewable energy in the country.

You May Like

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to enhancement or regression of democracy for Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid