The world’s largest solar thermal plant – nearly double the size of the original largest in Denmark – is now online in Saudi Arabia, reinforcing the notion that this Gulf country has the potential to maintain its current oil wealth by exporting solar power for the next twenty centuries.
Originally awarded to Jordan’s Millennium Energy Industries in 2010, the $14 million project in Riyadh is the size of 5 football pitches and produces enough energy to heat water for 40,000 students at the Princess Noura bint AbdulRahman University campus in Riyadh.
The largest women-only university in the world (we’re breaking all kinds of records here), the campus has 15 academic faculty buildings, a variety of labs and a 700-bed hospital. All of the water in these facilities will be heated by the gargantuan roof-mounted solar panels. It is the first university in the Kingdom to rely on a district solar water heater.
Millennium Energy, which was responsible for the design and build of the solar thermal plant, subcontracted Greenonetec, an Austrian manufacturer, to supply the GK 3000 series solar collectors, and received solar thermal application expertise from the Austrian company AEE Intec.
These panels have a 95% absorption rate and weigh 170kg. They are 10 by 5 meters large and are especially designed to withstand the desert’s fierce sandstorms.
Other energy saving technology incorporated into the university’s design will result in annual carbon savings of 125 million kilograms, making this by far the most sustainable campus in all of Saudi.
The rooftop system covers a total area of 36,305m² compared to the former largest solar thermal power plant in Denmark, which covers an area of 19,875 m².
After a six month trial period, each one of the six solar fields has been uncovered and six tanks of 150m3 have been built to store excess solar heat at 110°C.