Saudi Arabia could be running one third of the planet’s CSP plants by 2030.
With the recent announcement of the most ambitious solar plan in the world, solar developers are now headed to the oil-rich Kingdom to help make it happen.The first of a planned 25 GW of CSP (Concentrated Solar Power: mirrors to heat liquids to drive turbines) and 16 GW of PV (PhotoVoltaic: direct electrical conversion, like on rooftops) to supply Saudi Arabia with a $109 billion plan to solar-power a third of the Kingdom have been put out to bid now. Some of the fine print details have now emerged from CSP Today. Once it is complete, 25 GW would be a third of the expected global CSP in 20 years, according to current plans. Bids will be initially for about 1,000 MW each for the first year.
These are utility-scale projects, and the smallest CSP project will be 5 MW. PV will be used to meet most daytime demand within the Kingdom. CSP will fill in because its energy can be stored for use later into the evening peak. Fossil energy for domestic use will be a last resort, or combined with CSP.
Saudis are investigating hybrid plants.
CSP can be piggybacked on to a fossil fueled traditional plant, since – though while one harvests the sun, the other burns oil – both use that heat to turn the same turbines to make electricity. The only difference is that CSP uses (free, limitless) sun to create that steam, while the traditional plant must burn up the Saudis’ (valuable, finite) supplies of oil.
If a typical parabolic trough CSP plant is incorporated into a fossil fuel plant, like at Kuraymat in Egypt, it makes very economic use of the “back end” (the thermal energy plant running turbines off steam) getting twice the bang for the buck. The solar field of collectors accounts for only half the cost of a parabolic trough CSP plant, although adding storage adds 16% to that.
And doubling production from the same back end means adding power the Kingdom needs, without raising carbon emissions.
All Saudi desalination will ultimately be solar-powered.
Saudi water desalination is a huge part of its domestic electricity use, and the Kingdom’s Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) plans to switch this entirely to solar operation. The SWCC operates the 30 publicly-owned desalination plants and a network of pumping stations, reservoirs and all the pipes to transport the water in bulk from the plants to the major consumption centers. Energy is used to desalinate, but it also takes a great deal of energy to move water through the entire Kingdom. The largest city, Riyadh, is very far from the coast.
As the first solar desalination project, next year, the Saudis will flip the switch on the world’s largest solar desalination project, producing 30,000 cubic metres of water per day for 100,000 residents of Al-Khafji near Kuwait.
Local production will be preferred.
The Saudis have emphasized that the new solar economy must create local jobs and develop local expertise. Taking control of the PV side of the $109 billion investment in solar, they have just invested in their first polysilicon refining plant, as the precursor to producing their own solar panels. Home-made CSP also will be important. How much of a CSP plant can be produced locally?
Local Saudi CSP company Acwa Power gave a hint. A surprising shortage of welding and galvanising facilities in the Kingdom means that the steel structure might be the hardest to localize, but once these are addressed, more than 80% of a parabolic trough type of CSP solar field can be local. Acwa president and CEO Paddy Padmanathan added that over the lifetime of a plant, operation & maintenance contributes 30% of the costs, which could potentially be up to 90% local.
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