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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
He also says that all solar power plants in the country – either thermal or photovoltaic – are research plants, much smaller than others around the world. For example, the biggest solar thermal power plant in the American state of Nevada produces 64MW and the largest in Europe, in Spain, produces 60MW.
“The total produced in 2008 in Saudi Arabia is approximately 34,000MW. So you can see the magnitude of the power needed in Saudi Arabia, with the power in developed countries being much greater.”
April 2009 estimates released by the American Department of Energy stated that the cost comparison between fossil fuel and solar power to produce a kilowatt of electricity is 25 cents to 50 cents a kilowatt hour for sun power while oil-fired or conventional power is half that at just 12 cents.
“But in Saudi Arabia that price is even lower at only 3.2 cents a kilowatt,” Bashrahil says. “Solar energy is not feasible compared to conventional fuels and is only feasible at smaller plants in remote areas and for certain applications.”
However, statistics recently published in the ‘Saudi Commerce & Economic Review’ estimated that as much as 7,000 watts of energy per square meter fall on Saudi Arabia for 12 hours each day.
Because of this potential and the increasing electricity demand, many local and international entities are teaming up to bring prices down and make solar energy a feasible energy source.
Saudi Aramco is one just conglomerate that has been involved in researching solar energy and has met with international representatives such as Japanese refiners and solar panel manufacturers Show Shell Sekiyu.
They signed a memorandum of understanding last year agreeing to continue testing and to build a 10-megawatt pilot power plant as the first step in developing a countrywide solar energy strategy.
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, 80 kilometers north of Jeddah, is also planning to build a 2-megawatt power plant to research solar energy.