February 14, 2010 – Vol.14 No.48
SOLAR FOR SAUDI ARABIA.
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News
Someday Saudi Arabia could become the Saudi Arabia of solar energy. It’s possible that someday the world’s largest oil producer could become the world’s largest developer of energy from the Sun.
According to a press release from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has begun building the first solar-powered water desalination plant, the first step in a three-part program to introduce solar energy into the Kingdom. The program, launched by the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), aims to help stabilize future power and water supplies inside Saudi Arabia through the creation of solar-powered desalination facilities.”
The Embassy did not offer details of the other two steps of the program, but gave other information:
--- Saudi Arabia produces 18 percent of the world's desalinated water.
--- Saudi Arabia is a prime location to harness solar energy because of its year-round sunshine.
--- The Sun in Saudi Arabia emits about 7,000 watts of energy per square meter over an average of 12 hours, every day.
It sounds as though the Kingdom recognizes the solar potential it has.
But there’s more that’s obvious.
--- Oil, as its main export item, gives the country its riches. The more oil it exports the more money it takes in. The less oil consumed domestically, the more can be sold beyond its borders. There’s no sense using oil at home when it can be sold overseas for profit. In a measure to cut domestic consumption, the Kingdom also has launched a national energy efficiency program to conserve oil.
--- Saudi Arabia won’t be an oil exporter forever. Eventually the oil will dry up. Saudi Arabia has to think of its future. What will it do when the oil is gone? Again, the less oil consumed at home, the more oil will be available for export. The nation can delay the day when its oil runs out by conserving domestic oil consumption now. (It’s hard to imagine, but Saudi Arabia could also someday become the world’s largest per capita user of hybrid and electric cars as a way to conserve oil supplies.)
--- Saudi Arabia also has the wealth to build as much solar capacity as it desires.
With that wealth Saudi Arabia could become the world’s largest developer and financier of solar projects world wide. What the nation’s leaders certainly know is that there’s wealth to be earned in the production and sale of energy.
Already Saudi Arabia is included in plans to bring considerable solar power to Europe. The Desertec Concept is to build a series of concentrating solar power plants in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region with a connecting grid to Europe. Up to 100 gigawatts is planned for export by 2050. Solar generating stations on the Arabian peninsula are included in the concept.
Once the Kingdom climbs up the experience curve in solar energy (which may be rapid) it may start looking for solar opportunities worldwide. A Desertec-type project could be built in the US with concentrated solar power from the desert southwest transmitted to the rest of the country. Saudi Arabia could finance this and profit from it.
Already there is a US link to Saudi solar plans. From the press release,”KACST and IBM have developed a research center to determine how best to harness and repurpose this solar energy and is preparing to implement this state-of-the-art technology.” (We’ll have to see if IBM’s new solar cell technology using earth-abundant materials is part of the plan.)
Saudi Arabia is not the first in the region to jump on the solar energy bandwagon. The Masdar Initiative in neighboring Abu Dhabi is now a regional leader in the research, development and deployment of renewable energy including solar. Part of Masdar's objective is to transform Abu Dhabi into a developer and exporter of technology, rather than an importer.
Saudi Arabia, too, well knows the value of exports, something the import-reliant US has forgotten, by the way.
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