Bahrain paves the way for solar panel manufacturing in the Gulf

Bahrain solar panels
24 January, 2023
Bahrain has become an unlikely hub for solar panels which could make it a role model for other energy superpowers in the Persian Gulf, showing them not only how to expand its use but also how to diversify their economies away from fossil fuels.

Even as the kingdoms of the Persian Gulf seek to maintain the dominance of the petroleum industry to secure their economic futures, they are redoubling investments in renewable energy amid a global push for carbon neutrality.

Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, the region’s most powerful countries, are using their enormous wealth to spearhead this campaign.

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Nonetheless, Bahrain, a tiny island country often dismissed as a Saudi client state, has managed to distinguish itself as an unlikely hub for the manufacture of solar panels.

Credit for this achievement goes to Solar One, a company based in the Bahraini city of Askar.

Faisal Khalifeh, managing director of Solar One
Faisal Khalifeh, the managing director of Solar One, Bahrain's first solar panel manufacturer [Getty]

Solar One bills itself on its website as “Bahrain’s first solar panel manufacturer,” “Bahrain’s solar energy leader,” and a “market leader in solar energy project development.”

Founded in 2017, the company intends “to deliver high-quality, cost-competitive products and services to the market” and claims to “have served over 100 happy clients in five countries.”

Solar One’s commitment to renewable energy has earned its plaudits overseas. Last March, CNN published an article praising the firm for “blazing a trail for renewables.”

"Founded in 2017, the company intends 'to deliver high-quality, cost-competitive products and services to the market' and claims to 'have served over 100 happy clients in five countries'"

CNN reported that Solar One also received a positive reception at home: the company obtained funding from Tamkeen, a Bahraini government agency.

Solar panels are assembled at a plant in Bahrain's capital Manama on August 25, 2022
Solar panels are assembled at a plant in Bahrain's capital Manama [Getty]

The investment should come as little surprise, given the alignment of Solar One’s aspirations with Bahrain’s. The business will bring the country one step closer to its goal of carbon neutrality by 2060 and help Bahrain diversify its economy.

According to the World Bank, revenue from fossil fuels accounts for over 70 percent of Bahrain’s government budget.

However, the International Monetary Fund has predicted that the country will exhaust its oil and gas reserves before the end of the decade – faster than any other Gulf monarchy.

By producing its own solar panels, Bahrain can reduce its reliance on the petroleum industry while advancing a complementary plan for the expansion of renewable energy.

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Bahraini officials aim to derive five percent of their country’s energy from renewable resources by 2025 and 10 percent by 2035.

Solar One has played a small role in realising these objectives, boasting of having “contributed over 2 MW of clean energy to Bahrain’s energy mix” out of the 280 megawatts that the country hopes to have by 2025.

The company has also supported the government in more creative ways, using a webpage to highlight pictures of Solar One solar panels on a building belonging to the Bahraini Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs.

"Bahrain often repeats the Gulf’s commitment to renewable energy and carbon neutrality even if that goal remains decades away"

Bahrain’s leaders have plenty of other allies in their bid for carbon neutrality. This month, the website Zawya reported that the Bahraini Electricity and Water Authority received seven bids for a series of initiatives involving solar power.

The successful bidders included the Bahraini firm Tarsheed Energy, the Emirati company Yellow Door Energy, and the Saudi firm Safeer, an indication that Solar One will face competition at home and elsewhere in the Gulf.

Bahrain often repeats the Gulf’s commitment to renewable energy and carbon neutrality even if that goal remains decades away. In a press release for the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference – better known as “COP27” – Ahmed Sultan, an official with the Bahrain Economic Development Board, detailed “how the Gulf states are using tech to build net-zero and future-fit manufacturing industries.”

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The National Bank of Bahrain, a state-owned enterprise, has also supported the installation of solar panels throughout the country.

The private sector is making its own effort to assist Bahrain’s transition to renewable energy. The website SolarFeeds notes that Solar One’s local rivals include KP Smart Energy and Solartecc Green Energy.

Solartecc has even collaborated with the Italian firm Ecoprogetti to develop its own facility for manufacturing, an example of the ways in which competition and internationalization are accelerating Bahrain’s quest for carbon neutrality.

"Bahrain has worked with the United Nations Development Programme to explore the possibility of covering dozens of government buildings with solar panels"

Though Bahrain enjoys considerable wealth thanks to its oil and gas reserves, the country may nevertheless benefit from overseas support.

Bahrain has worked with the United Nations Development Programme to explore the possibility of covering dozens of government buildings with solar panels, in effect a larger version of Solar One’s photo-worthy partnership with the Bahraini Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs.

Other arms of the UN, such as the UN Environmental Program, can further assist the Bahraini embrace of solar power.

solar panels placed at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) in Sakhir desert in the island-country's south
Solar panels placed at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC) in Sakhir desert in the island-country's south [Getty]

These examples of cooperation between the public sector, the private sector, and the international community are turning Bahrain into a role model for sustainable development and economic diversification.

The Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia may even want to follow in Bahrain’s footsteps, marshalling their financial resources to bolster the Gulf’s transition to carbon neutrality and nudge their economies away from the petroleum industry.

For now, Bahrain has set itself apart as a manufacturer of solar panels, an industry whose success will determine the future of the country’s plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Without allies like Solar One, the country will find itself that much further from carbon neutrality.

Austin Bodetti is a writer specialising in the Arab world. His work has appeared in The Daily Beast, USA Today, Vox, and Wired