Feel the Heat: How Qatar is Converting to Solar Energy

Thousands across the globe feel the Sun’s blazing heat. But, in the Middle Eastern country of Qatar, the Sun could provide a new type of renewable energy to a forward-looking government and its people. There are many ways Qatar plans on diversifying their energy industry to include solar. Even though they have progressed greatly, Qatar and its companies should continue to support and invest in the solar energy sector. This will diversify its oil and natural-gas based economy and ensure a stable financial future. Supporting the solar industry will take advantage of the growing energy needs today, and build on Qatar’s position as one of the world’s largest and wealthiest energy producers. Qatar has the economic resources to enable the transition to solar and support a sustainable society for the future.

The Oil and Natural Gas Industries

To understand Qatar’s position on renewable energy one must first understand its economy, which has changed a lot since its early days. At first, Qatar was a poor country and did not have much of an economy. After a brief rise and fall of the pearling industry, Qatar had a major discovery in 1939: oil. They found large fields of oil on the eastern side of the peninsula, both onshore and offshore. These were some of the largest oil fields in the world, and they revived the dying country’s economy. Qatar had a booming industry, which helped them earn a large trade income to make it the wealthy country it is now (Willis 71-81). The oil industry in Qatar today is still going strong. Currently, there are several key oil companies that contribute to the wealth of Qatar. A major petroleum company is Qatar Petroleum, a massive oil company that is a crucial part of Qatar’s economy. It is a state-owned business formed in the 1970’s that many people in Qatar work for. In fact, most companies and jobs in Qatar are working for or around Qatar Petroleum (Willis 71).

Another important fossil fuel industry in Qatar is the natural gas industry. There are two types of natural gas: associated, which is found with crude oil, and non-associated, which is pure and found without crude oil. Qatar’s main natural gas field is the North Field, on the northern side of the peninsula (Willis 73-74). It is considered to be the largest non-associated natural gas field in the world and accounts for 99% of Qatar’s gas reserves (Gulf Times). Though it is hard to mine and liquefy, natural gas as well as oil make up most of Qatar’s income, and these fossil fuels are what make Qatar a wealthy country today (Willis 75).

Qatar’s Views on Renewable Energy

Qatar’s government has unique views on renewable energy. They are very supportive of renewable energy, even though they earn money mostly from fossil fuels. Qatar uses these fossil fuels mainly as exports, not for themselves. People in Qatar use ‘cleaner’ fossil fuels such as coal, and sometimes their own natural gas. Qatar’s philosophy is to let the world use their resources so they can make an income, and then spend that money making wiser decisions for their own country (Qatar Embassy). Qatar also sees the growing demand for renewable energy as an opportunity. The world is converting to renewable energy forms such as solar power, so companies like QSTec (Qatar Solar Technologies) are moving into mass production of solar panels. Qatar wants to take the opportunity in the growing industry and demand. Switching to being a producer of renewable would also be a smarter choice for the economy, to diversify it from oil and natural gas. That way, when next economy change comes, like when it converted from pearls to petroleum, Qatar will be ready. The country encourages its people and companies to convert to renewable for these reasons (Qatar Embassy).

Qatar also wants to move to renewable energy as part of their plan to fulfill the Paris Climate Agreement, an accord signed by 195 countries to set goals and improve on their renewable energy utilization (Qatar Embassy). They want to do this because they are a wealthy country and can set an example by using their money for worthwhile purposes, such as renewable energy.

Solar Energy: Benefits and Tradeoffs

Qatar, a country with a hot, subtropical climate and lots of sunlight, specifically wants to use solar energy (Gulf Times). There are several positive and negative aspects of solar energy. Out of the many, one of the preferable features about solar versus fossil fuels is that solar power is more sustainable. While fossil fuels are finite and will eventually run out, there is so much energy from the Sun that there is more supply than demand. This means that even if everyone in the world used solar, there would be more than enough energy left over (Nakaya 40-41). Currently, solar energy is expensive because it is not as common as fossil fuels, but it has a trend of getting cheaper. With new technology, and more people buying solar, experts think the trend will continue. Soon, we will have completely affordable solar energy.

Though solar energy does not need a grid, many users of solar energy buy and sell to power companies with one. A new grid will make solar energy less risky and will enable people to buy and sell their power, and provide energy to other areas that need it. This way, communities and cities can support each other’s power and transport energy to one another (Nakaya, 42-44). Another positive aspect of solar energy is that, with grids, people can buy or sell energy to or from a power company depending on weather (Nakaya 42-44). This is not much of a problem for Qatar however, mostly because of its potential for solar. Qatar has high solar irradiation, is always sunny, and has a strategic combination of long days and short nights (NREL). On the other hand, solar is a relatively new energy source, and as with all new products, there are several caveats and complication to it. First and foremost is an issue of concentration. This means that though there is lots of solar power, it is not as concentrated as fossil fuels. It does not provide the same amount of energy from the same amount of fuel. Because of this, solar energy requires large solar farms to harness enough energy, which is why experts and officials are worried it may not be able to sustain the growing energy need (Nakaya, 44).

Types of Solar Energy

As Qatar plans to go ahead with their renewable energy action, companies interested in investing in solar are making decisions on different types of solar energy. There are lots of solar energy technologies that provide energy efficiently, but the main two are photovoltaic (or PV) panels and CSP (Concentrated Solar Power). Photovoltaic technologies use silicon panels that convert light energy into electrical energy. PV works by directly harnessing the Sun’s light. Sunlight is made of bundles of energy called photons. When the Sun shines, it excites silicon atoms, which knocks electrons loose. The free electrons form an electrical current (Heinrichs, 58). A newer type of PV technology is thin-film photovoltaics, which is made of several layers of light-sensitive materials. It is cheaper and easier to integrate into roofing and windows, but less efficient (Heinrichs, 62). CSP, or Concentrated Solar Power systems, work by using reflective surfaces to harness the light. There are three main types of CSP. The first is a solar dish/engine system, which uses a dish or receiver that concentrates sunlight onto a liquid or gas. The substance expands as it heats and powers a generator. Another type of CSP is the parabolic trough, which has curved mirrors that concentrate the sunlight onto pipes of oil. The heated oil powers a generator. The last type of CSP is a power tower, which are towers surrounded by mirrors called heliostats. Heliostats are special mirrors, and follow the Sun’s path. They concentrate the sunlight onto a receiver that powers a generator (Heinrichs, 59-60).

Though Qatar has a lot of solar energy, a problem is that its climate is very dry and dusty. Dryness in the air and particles of dust can both damage solar panels. The Solar Test Facility founded by Chevron, Qatar Foundation, and GreenGulf, three green companies, aims to find new PV technologies that can withstand such elements in Qatar (NREL). Though progress on solar technologies is underway, government involvement could help speed things up.

Government Policy and Incentives

Some, such as solar power investors and producers, say that the government should be involved in solar energy. This means that the government would set standards that would guide people to convert to renewable. There are a few different types of these incentives grants and loans, where they government lends money to invest in renewable. There are also subsidies, which are when the government pays for some of the price of solar investment, either as a loan or a donation. Lastly, there are feed-in tariffs, when the government or private investors offer to buy the energy before it is produced (Nakaya, 53). All of these motivations would convince investors to participate in the solar energy. And, if the government sets standards, more people will end up converting. This will be environmentally friendly, and though it may be expensive now, it is easier to convert to solar in the long run rather than continue with fossil fuels. Government incentives will also set an example for investors, and make it less risky for people to enter the solar business. People are more likely to invest in clean, renewable energies like solar if they know they will have support in doing so (Nakaya 54).

Despite this, some economists and managers do not think government involvement is a good idea. They say that motivations such as feed-in tariffs, loans, grants, and subsidies are often given depending on persuasion rather than the product. This means that the government sometimes gives incentives to companies just because they produce renewable energy, rather than if they have chances of doing well or not (Nakaya 61-62). As a result, renewable energy companies sometimes end up going bankrupt or closing down (Nakaya 63-63).

Qatar takes both the positive and negative aspects of government involvement into account. However, the government supports moving to renewable energy as a smarter choice for a sustainable country and want to provide incentives for companies and individuals to use and supply renewable energy. The government of Qatar offers grants and loans to companies, as well as lots of subsidies (donations in the form of loans or grants) to encourage companies to convert to renewable energy. As a result, businesses and private investors are getting involved in the solar industry. Some citizens even have free energy because the government pays for production. The leadership of Qatar pays for renewable energy costs for lots of companies, which is why everyone is turning to solar energy. Despite all this government encouragement, there is actually no legislation about incentives for renewable energy that need to be legalized. This means that there are no laws for incentives like feed-in tariffs, which is buying the energy before it is produced. Such motivations require laws for the government to give them out (Davies, Evershed, PwC).

How Qatar’s Companies are Converting to Renewable Energy

QSTec is a company focused on providing solar energy to Qatar. It has recently developed a new, high-purity polysilicon, a key part of solar panels that allows sunlight to be converted to electricity. The purer the silicon, the better it harnesses sunlight. The company’s good fortune started when it received financing from several shareowners. The money was invested in 47% stakes in Solar World, a German solar company. SolarWorld will be a key customer of QSTec’s polysilicon in the future to provide for their own country. QSTech has also acquired takes in a special photovoltaics technology (centrotherm photovoltaics). QSTec has finished building and is in full production modes of solar panels. It will have lots of business as high-purity polysilicon becomes more popular as an efficient and reliable energy source (Osborne, PV Tech).

Another example of companies in Qatar converting to renewable energy are the solar energy gardens, a joint project by Al Shamal Municipality and Ras Laffan Community Outreach. These two companies take care of the community as well as the environment, and put solar energy recharge stations in gardens. The second part of the project was putting solar powered umbrellas and lights at beaches, where lots of tourists visit (Gulf Times). Some fossil fuel companies are also making efforts to switch to renewable energy, such as Qatar Electricity and Water Company and Qatar Petroleum, two energy companies who are together investing in new types of energy. Siemens Qatar and Alfardan Automobiles, car companies, are creating solar powered car charging stations and eventually plan on producing electric cars (PDF, Qatar Embassy). In the infrastructure industry, several infrastructure companies in Qatar have started creating environmentally friendly bridges, transportation, and buildings. One of these projects is Qatar Rail, which is using strict environmental standards and is four-star rated according to Qatar standards (Varghese, Gulf Times).

Environmental Standards

In thinking about environmentally friendly companies converting in Qatar, there are several standards to follow. One of these are renewable portfolio standards, specific standards on how much energy out of total energy production and consumption should be renewable. Several companies in Qatar are using GSAS standards (Global Sustainability Assessment System standards). These are a set of environmentally friendly guidelines approved by FIFA. Another set of such guidelines are the Green Building Standards set by Qatar Standards and Metrology Authority. It sets specific standards on renewable energy (Varghese, Gulf Times). As a national standard, Qatar’s government wants 20% of its energy to be renewable by 2030 (Gulf Times). Qatar is also preparing for the FIFA World Cup, which they are hosting in 2022. They hope to be carbon neutral by reducing 6 tons of emissions by 2022 in preparation for the World Cup. Qatar also wants to build sustainable infrastructure for the World Cup.

Qatar’s World Involvement in Renewable Energy

In addition to its companies, Qatar as a country has potential to be a renewable leader in the world. It is involved in the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA. Qatar signed IRENA’s founding document, which is significant because Qatar, a mass oil and natural gas producer, is stepping towards renewable energy. Qatar has also been involved in Gulf Region, as part of GCC, or the Gulf Cooperation Council, to help its fellow fossil fuel producing countries change energy sources (IRENA). Qatar also has a Memorandum of Understanding. with the U.S. The Memorandum of Understanding means that the countries will share knowledge, skills, and expertise on renewable energy. Topics will include reducing oil and gas development for Qatar, reducing carbon emissions for the U.S., and energy efficiency and renewable energy for both countries (Gulf Times).


Qatar has made great strides in switching to renewable, with both its government and companies adopting solar to address the growing renewable energy demand. Despite Qatar’s position as a significant fossil fuel producing country, it has still become involved in solar, showing renewable energy’s growing popularity worldwide. There is a high potential for the future of solar in Qatar, and the government and companies are moving forward systematically, having set multiple goals to fulfill. With a great position on renewable energy now and determination to be more sustainable in the future, Qatar has set an admirable example for other countries in the world.

Works Cited

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Varghese, Joseph. “Qatar’s First Renewable Energy Strategy on the Anvil.” Gulf Times [Doha], 26 Nov. 2017, Qatar sec. Gulf Times, www.gulf-times.com/story/572622/Qatar-s-first-renewable-energy-strategy-on-the-anv. Accessed 21 Feb. 2018.

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