Solar state of mind
In a region with thousands of hours of sunshine a year, the solar energy industry is in its infancy. Can Saudi Arabia lead the way in harnessing a new source of energy?
February 11, 2010 10:36 by Sarah Abdullah
The feasibility of harnessing Saudi Arabia’s vast resource of solar energy has been studied as far back as the 1960s. Yet for all the research, the outcome has always been the same: Converting solar energy into electricity is just too expensive. This leaves fossil fuels – primarily diesel – as the main source of energy for the country’s electricity power plants.
Yet recent indications suggest that this might soon change, although no one involved is getting too excited yet.
“I really do wish to say yes, since I was very optimistic 30 years ago, says Dr. Mohammed Bashrahil, electric generation expert and research manager at the Saudi Electric Company. “I expected more use and utilization of sun power in power generation, however I still have hope that one day we shall see a breakthrough in the field, so let’s wait and see,” he said.
Bashrahil also said that a deciding factor in whether solar power can finally be an economic alternative is the advancement in modern technology. “Solar power research and development has been increasing and implemented during the end of the last decade and hopefully will increase in this decade,” he said.
With demand for electricity rising at 6 percent per year, coupled with an increasing population, it would seem to be in the electric company’s best interests to use solar energy to relieve the power burden.
Just how big is the problem? Saudi Arabia’s Industry and Electricity Ministry has estimated that the country will require up to 20 gigawatts of additional power generation capacity by 2019, which will require an investment of at least $624 billion over the next 15 years to cope with the demand, with $46.9 of the investment figure for power investment alone.
However, Bashrahil is clear that solar energy is not the complete solution to these problems. “Solar radiation is one of the alternatives to fossil fuels to generate electric power, but not the only one. Even though it is used, it will not replace oil, coal, nuclear, and other various other sources of generating thermal power used to run power plants.”