Oil-Rich Saudi Arabia Turns to Solar Energy

Too late for Saudi solar

Saudi Arabia is set to invest a sum of $109 billion in the production of solar energy to produce 41,000 megawatts of electricity in the next 20 years.

[Photo: S. Saudi Arabia at night, NASA]

Germany has always had the reputation of being an efficient country. It’s not surprising today that companies from around the world seek its advice on renewable energy technology. It may come as a surprise that the nation that strives to follow their lead is also the top exporter and producer of oil, poetically referred to as black gold.

Solar power research in Saudi Arabia dates back to the 1970s, but why the sudden interest? Coming from a country swimming in oil, it may seem a bit peculiar. After all, around 90% of the kingdom’s budget revenues and export earnings are grounded in the petroleum sector. And no plans have been made to cut back on these numbers, therefore ruling out motives of being environmentally friendly.

Many conspiracy theories have risen from these facts, especially with Matt Simmons’ unexpected death in 2010, an investment banker in the oil industry. In his book Twilight in the Desert, Simmons claimed the Saudis were lying about their oil reserves and their projected productions levels for years to come. In fact, his predictions claimed the Saudis would be running out of oil by late 2014– right about now. Newspapers disagree on his cause of death, which alternates between drowning and succumbing to a heart attack.

But of course, Saudi Arabia is a prime location for harnessing solar power. Not only do its open spaces make the construction of solar farms ideal, but the country is equally famous for its oasis mirages as for its poor rain levels. While rain may fall along the Red Sea coast in the months of March and April, the Arabian Peninsula soaks in sun for the remainder of the year.

According to the Saudi Arabia Solar Industry Association, the “Kingdom has expressed strong support for a sustainable future in Saudi Arabia by encouraging the development of a substantial alternative energy capacity fully supported by world-class local industries”.

Their peak electricity load of 57GW is only predicted to increase. Keeping that in mind, solar energy is more of a need than a choice, according to senior officials of the national electricity provider– especially when taking into account the costs of transporting diesel rather than the subsidized costs of diesel itself.

As usual, bureaucracy will stand in the way with policies in need of revision, but Saudi officials maintain that their kingdom has the capability of following Germany’s footsteps.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens next if the kings of black gold themselves begin to embrace the concept of renewable energy.


Photo Credits

  1. Nasa Goddard Space Instititute: https://flic.kr/p/ft3v3K
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