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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs