Solar-Rich Saudis Running after Nukes

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It has no uranium, but lots of solar – yet Saudi Arabia plans to double down on nuclear capacity.

As we covered previously, working with China, Saudi Arabia will spend more than $100 billion to build 16 nuclear energy plants within the next few years, as part of ramping up its electric capacity. But the proposed solar budget might shock you.

The rapidly growing nation expects its installed electric capacity to about double by 2030 to 110 GW.  Official sources from Saudi Arabia say that they plan to get 20% of their electricity from nuclear, which will remain at a fifth of their electricity, even while domestic demand is growing at an estimated 8% over the next ten years.

That’s fine. They have the dough.

But what will it invest in solar power? After all, the Saudis could be exporting solar for the next twenty centuries.

“We have allocated $3 billion to produce solar energy panels in Jubail and Yanbu,”Commerce and Industry Minister Abdullah Zainal Alireza told a Saudi U.S. business forum where investment opportunities totaling $385 billion in the Kingdom were outlined.

At the forum in Atlanta Georgia, the Saudis were represented by an impressive 250-member delegation.

So just $3 billion of a proposed $385 billion investment the Saudis are planning to invest is be in solar. To me that is a very sorry figure -even though at least one solar CEO told me the Saudis are genuinely interested in solar. But $3 billion, compared to $100 billion for nuclear – for a nation that will have to import its uranium, unlike its abundant solar resource.

It seems that the fossil industry just much prefers to develop nuclear power than wind or solar.

Like the oil and coal-funded Republican party in the U.S. that will not subsidize clean energy and is always hankering after more nuclear power, and adding more funding for nuclear subsidies, likewise, the Saudis seem to believe that the off-ramp from oil means adding incredible amounts of nuclear power.

The 16 nuclear projects would be financed by the national revenue.

It is not as if the Saudis cannot afford solar. Despite the plateauing oil supplies, its economy has a growth rate paralleling some of the diverse manufacturing economies of rapidly growing Asia.

The commerce and industry minister said “The Kingdom’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 4.1 percent in 2010 and the GDP growth rate in 2011 is expected to reach 6.5 percent.”

The Kingdom plans to get 10 percent of its electricity from solar – compared with 20 percent from nuclear.

But to get there, it expects to invest $100 billion to build 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear, and $3 billion to produce 10 percent of its electricity from solar. Having just opened the world’s largest solar hot water heating system on a university campus, the Saudis are underestimating solar electricity.

Something does not compute…or maybe it’s good news. Maybe they won’t need to buy retail from the U.S. because they plan to Make Desert Sands into Solar Polysilicon. DIY?

Image of desert planet from FILATOV ALEXEY/Shutterstock

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