Details Emerge of Saudi’s $109 Billion Solar Plan

BrightSource Solar Tower SaudiSaudi 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.

Image BrightSource

 Read more on Saudi Solar:

Which Solar Technologies Will Have the Most Investment Appeal
Interview: SolarReserve For the MENA Region?
Saudis Could Export Solar for the Next Twenty Centuries

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6 thoughts on “Details Emerge of Saudi’s $109 Billion Solar Plan”

  1. OLIVERWHAT? says:

    Oh another huge thing that needs to coexist with the affordabilit. Meaning if there ARE CHEAP enough cars with good enough stats for 50% of pop. or more or less, yet they have no place to plug it in….well…gas it is. Thats as big if not bigger!

  2. OLIVERWHAT? says:

    Now about the housing PV panels, instead of centralized stations, I do not know the answer though I do know if what you claim is true and it is not just affordable for the the top 10% or less or even top 25% over the next year(which is is over half over) there would be a huge surge to solar power. Not the small decent gains being made as of now but huge chunks of the pop. in the USA would do it ASAP if it was AS affordable as you claim. Thats my only point there and same with the cars, the whole making someone rich to do what your car now does what a general assessment of the tech as of now, and not your thoughts about the Tech. If they were that cheap and not more expensive to drive etc…. then they’d be taking over the highways…like they will in the future, though some will never “GET RID” of or sell the internal combustion engine completely or ever switch.

  3. OLIVERWHAT? says:

    I know it had been awhile and you probably will not see this though I still do not want to be rude, as I think it is a; lost in translation deal, your comment is virtually unreadable/un-understandable.(i.e. is not readable or coherent) To the main point, solar-thermal is heating and cooling, not just PV panels or a CSP Plant(Sun heats water whereas PV directly converts the sun into electricity) as per your definition. Where have you seen or heard of this, you are jumping down intelligent peoples’ plans to get off fossil fuels by centralized solar power. You claim Germany had affordable “mobile” units even(cars) that claim insinuates there is better tech than what the USA has for cars and PV panels for houses though if this was the case millions a year would be dumping there cars and grid for it. Yes it is affordable compared to what it was, but the cars still pull off the grid anyway so I’ve always said the electric car is a bust until all renewable is being used. Your just switching the place the fuel is burned, maybe getting a lil more bang for your buck(though your paying more because the profits goto the GOV.[no Obama bashing here Rep. N Dems a like]AND their Friends{the owners}So why bother buying an electric car….any arguments anyone, didnt think so. Also the cars get poor mileage and anyone driving more than 100 miles a week or even a month is cut out(unless you say “oh keep the gas guzzler for the LONG trips” Heres an idea don not bother SWITCHING the place where the fuel is burnt, keep it in your internal combustion engine and not let someone com-bust it FOR you at a higher price for less mileage (all so the owners get rich! oh they can claim they are saving the earth and buying offsets(why not right) for their private plane, limo etc..! once all renewable or even a good % is switched then it will be cheap and worth it.

  4. The missing piece of the puzzle here is long distance power transmission. Saudi Arabia has a unique opportunity to use its oil wealth to pilot technologies that will ultimately be very good for all of us. Kudos for taking a leading role on CSP, but why not also consider taking a lead role on creating a local/regional supergrid? My piece of this puzzle is a high capacity transmission technology (, but regardless how it is implemented, a supergrid is important!

  5. Oliver says:

    What a shame. It seems that the nature of renewable energies has not been fully understood. Solar panels, wind power even solar thermal (cooling and heating) are technologies for decentralised applications. The facts are: In “sunny” Germany over one million of PV panels installation all across the country have produced 25 May the equivalent of 20 nuclear power stations over the day. Home owners, villages, regions are more and more power exporters instead of helpless conumers using a number of renewable power system (wind, biogas, solar, solar thermal, …) together and smartly connected. “One way” power production to consumers is really old school. I am surprised that clever people still believe that they can replace centralised and big fossil power stations with big renewable power stations (“silver bullet syndrom”). If you look at this years intersolar (largest PV trade show in Munich) you will see intelligent and affordable stationary power storage technologies. Mobile power storage systems in forms of electrical cars smart connected to the exising grid will balance out additionally any power production fluctuation in the future. Looking at large scale desalination you can easily look at the demand side as well (not only desalination though) and adjust its power consumption to (solar) power availability again using decentralised solutions. All this creates modern jobs locally and creates local Know How. Similar to smart phones, technology is developing into smaller and interacting systems. I am simply afraid that by the time those huge CSP systems go finally online (if they keep their promise) they are already outdated. Without looking at more intelligent distribution systems and demand side management this is already a recipe for failure and will not adress the needs of lots of people.

  6. Surprised it took this long for the middle east to take advantage of solar with their climate. It has been booming for about 3-4 years now here in Arizona and a win win for electric companies and homeowners.

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