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Can design shape the future of renewable energy in the Middle East?

Sustainability doesn’t need to only be innovative and efficient. It can be elegant, too.

Can design shape the future of renewable energy in the Middle East?
[Source photo: Krishna Prasad/Fast Company Middle East]

Everyone is talking about saving the planet with solar energy, but let’s face it: Have we considered saving the planet with solar energy that’s aesthetically captivating? Innovation in solar technology is booming, but the real game-changer isn’t just the tech itself – it’s the design.

This focus on design is fascinating in the Middle East, a region starting a solar revolution. 

The solar panel design and implementation landscape in the Middle East is experiencing exciting growth, believes Eng. Channa Silva, CEO, at EnerGulf. “We are seeing a shift towards high-efficiency panels, building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) systems, and innovative mounting solutions better suited to the region’s harsh climate conditions.”

Ahmed Abdelkareem, Solar Design Engineer at Elsewedy Electric T&D,  says solar energy has gained significant interest in the Middle East due to ample space for solar project installations. 

High ambient temperatures present a significant challenge in this region, as existing solutions are not specifically designed for such conditions. Fortunately, PV (photovoltaic module) manufacturers are developing technologies to reduce the temperature coefficient, mitigating the negative impact of heat on panel efficiency.

Also, a growing trend towards solar energy integration within national utility grids across the region is evident, says Eng. Raie Sameh George, Junior Solar System Design Engineer at Infinity. “The proven effectiveness and availability of both on-grid and off-grid systems have gained traction throughout the region due to their cost-effectiveness and competitive pricing among renewable energy sources. Additionally, the region shows potential for advancing sustainability goals and improving global quality of life.”


Solar systems design engineers are well aware of the limitations associated with solar energy, including high-temperature deratings, soil effects, space constraints, and the utility unbalance caused by the system’s reliance on the sun’s peak hours for operation.

Yet, George says, the field of solar energy offers ample opportunities for research and development to overcome these limitations. This includes exploring new cell structure modules, integrating additional coating layers, developing systems capable of incorporating Battery Energy Storage Systems (BESS) and strategically selecting locations with high solar irradiance while mitigating the impact of high-temperature regions.

Numerous innovative design elements address the unique challenges posed by the region’s climate. 

Some features include anti-reflective and self-cleaning coatings, which mitigate light reflection and facilitate the removal of dust particles by rain or wind, reducing efficiency losses. Bifacial solar panels can capture sunlight from both sides, potentially enhancing energy production. Silva adds that advanced back sheet materials are designed to improve light reflection and bolster panel durability in harsh environmental conditions. 

Silva highlights two solar panel types ideal for the Middle East. Firstly, low-temperature coefficient modules mitigate efficiency drops in high temperatures, ensuring better performance in hot climates. Secondly, dual glass modules replace traditional back sheet material with an extra layer of glass, enhancing durability against harsh weather like high winds and sandstorms. The smooth surface reduces dust accumulation, lowering cleaning frequency and potential efficiency losses.

By incorporating these innovative features and choosing the right panel type for the specific climate conditions, solar energy projects can achieve optimal performance and maximize their return on investment.


While solar energy integration into architectural designs has begun, large-scale projects have yet to be widespread, says Abdelkareem. Promoting the incorporation of solar energy into architectural designs and raising public awareness about renewable energy and its environmental benefits are crucial steps forward.

For George, witnessing the implementation of sustainability solutions is gratifying. However, he adds that technologies like BIPV have been developed to meet aesthetic needs by integrating them into building facades or curved rooftops.

Silva agrees that building integrated photovoltaics is key. BIPV systems incorporate solar panels as functional building elements, such as roofs, facades, or windows. This approach can complement traditional architectural styles, like mashrabiyas, while enhancing energy efficiency.

However, their cost-effectiveness and efficiency remain relatively low, and they are still in the research and development phase.

Currently, manufacturers are advancing solar panel technology to offer a broader range of aesthetics. These innovations include colored panels, semi-transparent options, and patterned designs, all of which can complement architectural styles and cultural preferences.

To balance functionality and aesthetics, Silva emphasizes that advancements in solar technology offer highly efficient panels that don’t need extensive land use. This enables strategic placement for optimal energy production while considering visual impact on the landscape.


Solar tracking systems are a significant advancement in maximizing energy capture, especially in the Middle East’s dynamic sunlight conditions. These systems move solar panels throughout the day to maintain a perpendicular orientation to the sun, significantly increasing energy harvest compared to fixed-tilt panels. 

There are two main types of tracking systems. 

Single-axis trackers follow the sun’s east-west movement, balancing performance and cost-effectiveness. Though more complex, dual-axis trackers optimize efficiency by tracking horizontal and vertical axes. They are especially beneficial in regions with consistently high solar radiation, like the Middle East.

Technological advancements are making these tracking systems even more sophisticated. “We’re seeing the integration of sensors and weather tracking algorithms that optimize panel positioning based on real-time conditions. Additionally, advancements in materials and engineering are leading to more robust and cost-competitive tracking systems, making them a viable option for a wider range of solar projects,” says Silva.

Abdelkareem also believes that large-scale solar projects frequently utilize single-axis trackers to maximize energy production by tracking the sun’s movement. 

“For smaller projects, fixed orientations are commonly used. Water conservation is a priority, and many large-scale projects utilize dry-cleaning robots that do not require water. Additionally, the recyclability of PV plant components ensures minimal environmental impact.”

Advancements in tracking mounting systems have led to implementing open-loop data collecting concepts across each panel, adds George. This maximizes solar irradiance capture, particularly during early mornings and sunsets, ensuring optimal energy generation throughout the day.

Inverter manufacturers and structure control systems creators collaborate closely to optimize tracking angles for each PV array, reduce table shading, and enhance daily energy generation. 


Solar system maintenance is more often perceived by non-renewable energy owners. Not all systems require wet cleaning, as maintenance needs vary depending on the location, says George. 

However, water usage for cleaning solar panels can be reduced with anti-dust coatings provided by leading module manufacturers.

Moreover, recycling solutions can involve planting vegetation under PV tables that thrive in the local environment, reducing temperatures, and enhancing the efficiency of the photovoltaic modules. 

While traditional cleaning methods rely on water, there’s a growing focus on minimizing water consumption.

Some approaches would be utilizing brushes, air jets, or specially formulated cleaning cloths that can effectively remove dust and dirt without water, making for effective dry-cleaning techniques. Self-cleaning coatings help minimize dust build-up, reducing the need for frequent cleaning. Strategically tilting panels to optimized angles encourage dust runoff, naturally cleaning dust particles.

Advancements in solar panel design and materials extend beyond water usage, aiming to reduce their environmental impact throughout their lifecycle. Newer panels are more efficient, need less surface area for equivalent energy output, and boast improved durability and longer lifespans, decreasing the frequency of replacements. Manufacturers are also refining recycling methods to reclaim valuable materials at the end of a panel’s lifespan.


Grid compatibility poses a challenge to solar energy integration, as PV plants generate electricity only during the day, requiring backup from diesel generators to compensate for power leakage, says Abdelkareem. Additionally, PV plants often require more space than diesel generators, necessitating careful planning for land use.

Efficiency improvements in PV modules are feasible, but their commercial viability is crucial. Ongoing research aims to enhance module efficiency and minimize energy losses, paving the way for broader adoption of solar energy in the future.

While solar panel prices have markedly decreased over the past decade, Silva believes the initial investment in solar systems remains a hurdle for specific consumers and businesses. 

The levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) represents the total lifetime cost of generating electricity. While solar power has become increasingly competitive due to aggressive bidding in the renewable energy sector, challenges remain in specific markets. 

Nonetheless, ongoing policy reform and technological innovation aim to address these barriers and promote wider adoption of solar energy.

Silva highlights that visually appealing solar panel designs integrated with existing architecture can boost solar energy’s appeal for Commercial & Industrial (C&I) consumers. Interactive tools can convey its long-term economic benefits, which are crucial for those hindered by current electricity pricing models. Simplifying permitting processes can also remove regulatory barriers, easing adoption for businesses.

Embracing innovative design and regulations can make solar energy functional, visually appealing, and cost-competitive, speeding up the energy transition in the Middle East.

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Karrishma Modhy is the Managing Editor at Fast Company Middle East. She enjoys all things tech and business and is fascinated with space travel. In her spare time, she's hooked to 90s retro music and enjoys video games. Previously, she was the Managing Editor at Mashable Middle East & India. More

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