David Hedengren
Last updated: 14 May, 2012

Saudi Arabia’s $109 billion solar energy plan

Saudi Arabia is seeking $109 billion worth of investments in solar industry with the aim of generating 41,000 megawatts, a third of the country’s electricity need, by 2032.

This according to Maher al- Odan, a consultant at the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (Ka-care), who said in an interview on May 8 that “we are not only looking for building solar plants…we want to run a sustainable solar energy sector that will become a driver for the domestic energy for years to come,” reports Bloomberg Businessweek.

The comment illustrates the scale of Saudi Arabia’s ambitions to boost renewable energy. The country currently generates more than half of its electricity by burning oil, consuming up to an eighth of its total oil output, which doesn’t make economic sense given the high oil price. According to Bloomberg, the solar initiative has the potential of saving the equivalent of 523,000 barrels of oil per day over the next 20 years.

“The Saudi Arabian government has a powerful incentive to diversify its energy mix to reduce dependence on oil,” said Logan Goldie-Scot, an analyst at New Energy Finance in London.

But although Saudi Arabia may seem to be the ideal location for solar energy with an abundance of desert and sunshine, it isn’t the perfect environment as solar panels become less efficient if they get too hot. Another problem is dust.

“They actually have guys with brushes continuously cleaning these panels,” said Brett Prior, a senior analyst at GTM Research, speaking of a solar power project in neighbouring Abu Dhabi, according to CNN Money.

Regardless of the challenges, the Saudi government considers solar energy an important pillar of its future energy need with other forms of renewable energy such as nuclear, wind and geothermal only being expected to generate about half as much electricity by 2032, according to Ka-care’s vice president Khalid al-Suliman.