The Covid-19 pandemic had a severe impact on the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) power sector in the first half of 2020. The lockdowns introduced to stop the spread of the virus saw in a decline in power demand as a result of depressed commercial and industrial activity. While a halt in spending due to concerns over the fiscal impact of the crisis saw the value of power project contract awards in the region fall to $5.9bn in the first half of the year, 9.9 per cent down on the same period in 2019. As the recovery from the Covid-19 recssion picks up in the second half of 2020, the outlook for the regional power projects market is incredibly strong. Despite sharp shock from the pandemic, power project activity picked up rapidly in July, particularly in the renewables sector.
With about $30bn per year of capital spending on major projects, the power sector has long been one of the strongest and most reliable providers of business and investment opportunities in the region.
Over the past three years, however, the sector has been embarked on a remarkable programme of reforms which are transforming the Mena power sector beyond recognition, and creating exciting new opportunities and challenges for business and government alike. Sustainability and energy efficiency have become the driving forces behind radical and controversial shifts in policy such as the removal of energy subsidies which have kept energy and water tariffs artificially low for decades. The subsidy cuts are being introduced to reduce the financial burden on the state, and also to encourage consumers to curb their usage, thereby lowering the speed at which new capacity needs to be built.
Procurement models are changing too, with renewed interest in privately developed utility projects in order to spread the capital cost of building new capacity over a longer period. A much broader privatisation trend is also emerging, whereby governments are looking to sell off assets and unbundle generation, transmission and distribution. This will provide short-term windfalls for cash-strapped governments but will lead to a more efficiently run power sector in the long term. Perhaps the biggest transformation of all is the drive to diversify the region’s energy mix. Faced with a shortage of readily available gas supplies and attracted by the falling cost of technology, nearly all Mena countries are now procuring or planning solar and wind projects. They are also looking at other forms of renewable and alternative energy, from waste-to-energy to nuclear power.
Rapid population growth, coupled with industrial and economic expansion, is driving rising electricity consumption, making power capacity addition the need of the hour for regional governments. However, satisfying the rise in demand is becoming increasingly challenging. Few industries are as important to the sustainable development of the Mena as the power sector and few industries are undergoing such high levels investment and transformation. Mena Power 2020 is a comprehensive country-by-country review of the Mena power sector with in-depth analysis on supply and demand, projected investment levels, the role of the private sector and the search for alternative energy.