Built anywhere else, a 3.5 MW photovoltaic solar plant wouldn’t even elicit a whisper from mainstream news outlets. But one completed in Saudi Arabia has set the wires ablaze. We don’t mean to be cynical. It’s great that Saudi has turned to solar, regardless of its intentions. Some solar is better than no solar.
To put that into perspective, Masdar is about to complete the world’s largest single unit CSP plant outside of Abu Dhabi. That 100 MW facility will power 20,000 homes. If my calculations are right (and they could be wrong, because I’m a wordsmith not a mathematician), Saudi’s plant will run less than 800 homes. So it’s baby steps for the Kingdom, which plans to spend $109 billion to derive one third of its energy requirement from solar technology by 2032.
The 3 MW plant in Riyadh consists of 12,694 ground-mounted photovoltaic panels supplied by China’s Suntech Power Holdings Co., Bloomberg News reports.
It is the largest solar power plant developed in the Kingdom to date, and it is run by Germany’s Phoenix Solar AG.
But if Saudi aims to meet its grand plan to produce 41,000 MW of solar energy by 2032, it better start cracking the whip – so to speak.
Masdar CEO Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber said previously that the company has plans to help Saudi Arabia develop their renewable portfolio and that they can pass on their lessons learned in the process.
In an interview with Construction Week Online, he said, “We have a first-mover advantage. We have lessons learned. Why would we allow our partners in Saudi Arabia – or anywhere else, whether it is Egypt, Jordan or Morocco – to commit the same mistakes we did?”
Meanwhile, Suntech’s Ron Shen, Vice President of Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Africa, delivers the company’s official statement: “This project represents an important milestone in the development of the solar industry in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Whilst accurate, Shen’s statement doesn’t even begin to express Saudi’s ambitions.
In addition to exploring wind and geothermal technology, the Kingdom is hoping to generate enough solar energy from the sun to save 523,000 barrels of oil per day in the upcoming years.
Presently, in part because energy is fundamentally cheap in Saudi Arabia but also because it is subsidized, there are zero incentives for residents to slow down their consumption. This resulting footprint is not only environmentally destructive, but it also jeopardizes the security of the Kingdom’s exports, which are crucial to continued economic stability.
Image of sun setting, Shutterstock
Looking for more ways to dive into renewable energy in the Middle East? Visit the 5th MENASOL Middle East & North Africa Solar Conference & Expo; 14-15 May, Dubai. Click here for the MENASOL website.