Doha and the rising sun
Qatar has made no attempt to hide its solar power ambitions, with plans afoot to secure lucrative export opportunities. And now it has emerged that an old friend is at the top of Doha’s list: Japan.
Qatar has unveiled plans to target the Japanese market as it seeks to diversify its energy sector exports beyond its traditional reliance on natural gas, the Qatar Foundation revealed recently.
Japan is potentially one of the globe’s most lucrative solar power export markets and Qatar, already on good terms with the Far East-Asian nation due to an ever-growing number of liquefied natural gas (LNG) supply deals, is recognising a major opportunity to extend that relationship.
“Solar energy has demonstrated massive potential as a renewable energy source that can effectively satisfy our current and future needs,” the chief executive of Doha-based alternative energy investment company GreenGulf Omran Al Kuwari said. Indeed in partnership with energy multinational Chevron, GreenGulf and other stakeholders a solar power energy testing facility is due to open in Qatar early December, and like its hydrocarbon exports, Doha will be looking east for potential further partnerships and business. “We see many similarities with our Japanese counterparts and we believe that the clean technology industry is one platform where Japan and Qatar can find many opportunities for collaboration,” said Al Kuwari.
Japan is in the early stages of a major push to develop clean, renewable power generation infrastructure as part of its long-term recovery from the devastating earthquake and resulting tsunami that knocked out its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March last year.
In the intervening period, safety tests were ordered on all of Japan’s nuclear power plants, leading to a mass switch-off of power generation capacity. As a result the country has been forced to lean heavily on its contracted fossil-fuel suppliers, most notably Qatar, to ensure it can generate ample electricity to keep its economy afloat.
In October, Doha energy giant Qatargas signed a new long-term LNG supply deal with Japan’s Chubu Electric for the delivery of up to one million tonnes per annum (MTA) for 15 years starting from next year. The agreement was “in addition to several existing agreements between Chubu Electric and Qatargas,” the Doha company said in a statement.
This came just two weeks after Qatargas had signed a deal with Japan’s KEPCO to supply 0.5 MTA of the fuel for the same 15-year stretch. Speaking at Qatargas’ annual reception in Tokyo, Japan, last month, Qatar energy minister Mohammed bin Saleh Al Sada said that the LNG trade “remains the backbone of our relations with Japan in the energy sector”.
And now it seems that the blossoming relationship between the two nations will not be restricted to the global LNG arena. Japan experienced a post-Second World War economic miracle, and now “the Land of the Rising Sun could yet see a second economic miracle, this time powered by solar energy,” according to the Qatar Foundation statement.
The statement went on to say that the two nations’ economic relationship is blossoming, with Japan now the world’s biggest importer of Qatari products, amounting to a total value of US$29 billion (QR106 billion) per annum.
State subsidies in Japan are fuelling a rush to buy into the renewable energy sector, which will soon see the country become the world’s second-largest solar power market, according to the Qatar Foundation.
At the same time, Qatar Solar Technologies (Qstec) – owned by the Qatar Foundation – will complete phase one of its giant polysilicon production plant in Ras Laffan Industrial City. The facility will produce the material used to build solar panels, and aims to supply enough both to meet domestic demand and export to the globe, with the burgeoning Japanese market top of its list.