With its vast landscape, featuring “empty stretches of desert that can host solar arrays and vast deposits of clear sand that can be used in the manufacture of silicon photovoltaic cells”2 and benefiting from approximately 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, Saudi Arabia is highly suited to the development of solar energy. Saudi Aramco forecasts that the cost of solar production will halve to $0.10 per kWh in the period 2010-20 in the GCC, making it cheaper than diesel-fired generation and placing it on a par with gas.
Saudi Arabia aims to achieve a sustainable energy mix, with a combination of solar and nuclear power potentially accounting for more than half of its power supply by 2030. A key goal of Saudi’s energy policy is to encourage the participation of private sector investment.
Speaking at a conference earlier last year, Saudi’s Oil Minister His Excellency Ali Al-Naimi said that Saudi Arabia plans to generate solar electricity equalling the amount of its energy from crude exports, and has the potential by 2020 to produce enough solar power to meet more than four times global demand for electricity.
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)
KAUST was established by Saudi Aramco with the remit to drive innovation in science and technology and to support world-class research in areas such as energy and the environment.
The KAUST campus roof has been designed to incorporate massive solar thermal arrays to provide domestic hot water to all campus buildings, and solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays to generate and distribute power to campus buildings based upon demand. Future arrays can be incorporated to supplement increased energy demands in the future.
The rooftop houses a 2 MW solar plant, the first solar installation in Saudi Arabia, consisting of installations with a capacity of 1 MW each installed on the north and south laboratories of the university.
Conergy designed the plant and was responsible for the engineering, supervision and commissioning, while installation works and operational management were implemented by NSS. The power system features premium components, combining over 9,300 high-efficiency solar modules with Conergy Suntop III mounting systems and Conergy 280K central inverters. The photovoltaic plant occupies 11, 577 square metres of roof space and produces 3332 MW/h of clean energy annually, while also saving up to 33,320 tons of carbon emissions.
The solar plant forms part of KAUST’s wider green technology programme, as the flagship university wants to advance solar energy research through its Solar and Alternative Energy Science and Engineering Centre, and deploy clean energy solutions on its campus.
KAUST has also been awarded the prestigious LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification from the US Green Building Council (USGBC). The LEED Platinum certification is the highest of five possible environmental certification awards given out by the USGBC. This is the first LEED certified project in Saudi history and is the largest LEED Platinum project in the world. It is able to feed power back into the grid under a special arrangement with the Saudi Electricity Company.
Saudi Aramco / Showa Shell
Japan-based Showa Shell KK (which is fifteen per cent owned by Saudi Aramco) has formed a subsidiary, Solar Frontier, to manage its solar activities. As part of its efforts to expand its international presence, Solar Frontier has opened two international offices, one in Germany and one in California. In 2010, the company completed all structural work for the 900 MW per year manufacturing plant in Miyazaki prefecture, Japan, and started product testing at the facility.
When fully operational, the plant will be one of the world’s largest single thin-film solar technology manufacturing plants.
In November 2011 Saudi Aramco announced that as part of a joint venture with Showa Shell, production of solar cells will begin in Saudi Arabia in two to three years. If Aramco can introduce Showa Shell’s technology into Saudi Arabia, this would be a significant contribution to the nation’s main goal of industrial diversification. Showa Shell specialises in solar cells made using copper, indium and selenium. The materials are not as efficient at converting light into electricity as mainstream solar cells made from polysilicon but are cheaper, a point that may well be key in the future.3
The company has also established projects with solar manufacturers, training centres and universities to support key activities in the solar development sector. Saudi Aramco is also investing in building the world’s largest solar-PV car park, with solar shades to supply 10 megawatts of electrical power to an adjacent office complex in Dhahran, located in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province.
Farasan Island 500 kilowatts (kW) solar plant
Saudi Electricity Company (SEC) established this 500 kW solar plant in collaboration with Showa Shell. Under the arrangements Showa Shell will own the project for up to fifteen years, after which the assets will be transferred to SEC.
It is estimated that the plant will save the transfer of an equivalent of 28,000 barrels of diesel to Farasan Island.
King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology
King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) is an independent scientific organisation and is both the Saudi Arabian national science agency and its national laboratories. The science agency function involves science and technology policy making, data collection, funding of external research, and services such as the patent office. KACST’s responsibilities include: proposing a national policy for the development of science and technology and developing strategies and plans necessary to implement them; coordinating with government agencies; scientific institutions and research centres in the Kingdom to enhance research and exchange information and expertise; conducting research and providing advice to the government on science and technology matters; supporting scientific research and technology development; encouraging national innovation and technology transfer between research institutes and the industry and encouraging international cooperation in science and technology.
In January of last year KACST announced plans to develop solar powered desalination plants using advanced nanotechnology. One of the main objectives of the programme is to produce low-cost water treatment and electricity production. Desalinated seawater is to be produced at a cost of less than 1.5 Saudi Riyals per cubic meter compared to the current cost of desalination of seawater by thermal technology which is in the range 2.5 to 5.5 Saudi Riyals per cubic meter (around US$1.50), and desalination by reverse osmosis which is in the range 2.5 to 5.5 Saudi Riyals per cubic meter for a desalination plant producing 30,000 cubic meters per day. The cost of generated electricity by the new technology of solar photovoltaic will be less than 30 Halalah per kW/h.
The Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Water & Electricity, Ministry of Commerce and Industry and Saline Water Conversion Corporation are participating in this initiative with KACST. The implementation of this initiative will be in three stages:
- The first phase: Building a desalination plant with a capacity of 30,000 cubic meters per day by the construction of a solar energy facility with a capacity of 10 MW and a reverse osmosis plant, utilising the developed technologies. This phase has started with the New Year.
- The second phase: Building a desalination plant with a production capacity of 300,000 cubic meters per day at a site that will be chosen later. The implementation period for this is three years, and will start after the completion of the first phase.
- The third phase: The implementation of several water desalination plants using solar energy in various locations of the Kingdom. This phase will start after the completion of the second phase.
First Energy Bank
Bahrain-based First Energy Bank plans to build a $1 billion polysilicon plant in Saudi Arabia with a local partner to cater for rising regional investments in solar power. The Saudi plant will cover a total area of 375,000 square meters in Al Jubail Industrial City 2. The project is expected to begin production in 2013 and will have a total production capacity of 7,500 tons per annum of high quality polysilicon product capable of catering for users in the solar photo voltaic power as well as electronics industry markets. The future expansion of the project facility (second phase) will include investments in downstream sectors such as the manufacturing of ingots, wafers, cell and modules.
The project is being sponsored and developed by Cosmos Industrial Investment Corporation, a subsidiary of First Energy Bank.
The King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE) was established in 2010 with the remit of setting and implementing national atomic and renewable energy policy.
In June of this year, KA-CARE announced plans to build 16 nuclear reactors by 2030, and aims to have the first two reactors in ten years, and then to establish two nuclear reactors in each following year. The estimated cost of each reactor would be US$7 billion and Saudi Arabia plans to cover 20 per cent of its electricity needs using nuclear energy.
During that same month Saudi Arabia signed a nuclear energy agreement with Argentina. Desalination and electricity generation projects have been introduced by Argentina’s Atomic Energy Commission and technology firm INVAP. INVAP have previously built research reactors in Algeria and Egypt. Saudi Arabia has signed similar agreements with other countries including France.
GE Electric Co has also announced that it will look to secure nuclear power contracts with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is GE Energy’s largest equipment customer.
In November 2011, Saudi Arabia and Korea signed a nuclear agreement which provides a framework for scientific, technological and economic cooperation between the two nations.
A 2005 study of five cities in Saudi Arabia based on data collected between 1995 and 2002 concluded the viability of using wind energy to power off and on-grid locations.4 The five sites represented different geographic and climatological conditions.
The assessment showed that the cities of Dhulum and Arar were potential sites for off-grid, remote wind turbines. The same study also concluded the viability of using grid-connected wind turbines to partially power the two coastal cities of Yanbo and Dhahran. The last site, located at Gassim, had the lowest wind energy potential compared to the other sites, and was assessed as having barely adequate potential for the use of wind with low rated wind speed.
Research into the potential for wind energy undertaken at the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals concludes that the best sites are on the Arabian Gulf near Dharan. The research also concluded that hybrid based power generation would be a more viable and cost-effective approach for remotely located communities (that need an independent source of electrical energy) where it is uneconomical to extend the grid.5
An important element of Saudi’s energy policy is the elimination of waste and the promotion of energy efficiency measures. In 2008 the UN’s National Energy Efficiency Programme defined eight objectives for Saudi Arabia, including: energy audit services and industry support, efficient use of oil and gas, energy efficiency labels and standards for appliances, construction codes and technical management and training.
The plan aims to:
- reduce the electricity intensity by 30 per cent between 2005 and 2030; and
- halve the peak demand growth rate by 2015 compared with the period 2000 -2005.
Saudi Arabia’s primary energy consumption per capita is four times higher than the world average; at 6.8 total energy consumption per capita in 2009 compared with the world average of 1.8 total energy consumption per capita and is growing faster than GDP.
In the power sector, although the emission factor for power generation (CO2 emission per kWh produced) has been falling it is still high. In 2009 it reached 750 gCO2 per kWh, which is 1.5 times higher than the world average.
King Abdullah Financial District
The King Abdullah Financial District is a project that involves building 34 towers in a site with a total area of 1.6 million square metres, and aims to be the largest financial centre in the Middle East.
Several of the buildings within the project have been pre-certified for LEED, and at the end of October it was announced that the entire masterplan has also been nominated for LEED accreditation. If granted the certification, King Abdullah Financial District will become the world’s largest green development project and first LEED-certified district worldwide.
The project incorporates a number of sustainability initiatives including construction waste management programmes and alternative transport systems. LEED requirements prescribe a 10 per cent reduction in energy use, and measures to achieve this include low ultra-violet materials, shading device systems, heat recovery systems and efficient light fixtures.
Energy management systems have been supplied to a number of projects across the Kingdom, as well as having been successfully deployed in the Princess Noura bint Abdulrahman University for Women.