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Saudi Arabia's Solar Future - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Mideast Saudi Arabia

Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—In the sunny skies of Saudi Arabia, and amid temperatures topping 45 degrees Celsius, solar energy is considered among the most important alternative sources for producing electricity. It is one of the fields that is capturing growing interest among advocates and scholars of what is known as “clean energy” in the kingdom and abroad.

This follows predictions from experts that Saudi Arabia possesses the potential to become one of the most important producers of clean solar energy in the world, as Riyadh allocates billions of dollars midway through this year to kick-start plans for major solar power projects.

According to the latest reports, Saudi Arabia’s solar power infrastructure will be developed enough to achieve high levels of electricity production by 2032, perhaps meeting more than 30% of the country’s needs. Dr. Osama Al Falaly, a professor of economics at King Abdulaziz University, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Saudi Arabia has the second-highest potential for solar energy in the world, surpassed only by Chile’s Atacama Desert. Accordingly he said that future prospects for solar power in the kingdom were promising, despite disappointing results in recent years.

In particular, Dr. Falaly suggested that the experimental desalination station at Khafji, which operates solely on solar energy, if successful, could be expanded to all desalination stations in the Gulf and Red Sea Coast, allowing oil and gas to be directed to alternative uses, like export. Exporting the technology itself is also potentially profitable.

In response to the growing interest in solar power, King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE) has begun to implement a national plan aimed at measuring sources of renewable energy nationwide in order to evaluate their potential. These included solar, wind, waste-to-energy and underground energy, in addition to taking ground readings in a holistic manner from sites throughout the kingdom.

KACARE called on the relevant authorities in the energy development sector to participate in a workshop launching the beta version of the Atlas of Renewable Energy Sources. The workshop aimed to introduce the project measuring renewable energy sources, as well as display the pilot edition of the Atlas of Renewable Energy Sources.

The Saudi Ministry of Economy and Planning has already suggested lowering the contribution of oil and gas exports to the export structure in the state’s public budget from 65% to 19.5% in the current strategic plan. This comes as the result of an increase of non-gas exports from 24.2% to 80.5% during the same period.

King Abdulaziz University Department of Engineering and Computer Science revealed that sustainable development would first and foremost require preparing the people, and second, hard work and planning. It also stressed the importance of exploiting Saudi Arabia’s large size and of developing its human resources to keep up with the times and major technical progress electronic communications and services. Likewise, Saudi Arabia maintains a strategic location in the middle of the Arab and Islamic worlds, close to parts of Europe, the Indian Ocean, Iran and Asia.

The university went so far as to say that the ministries specializing in planning and economics are completely responsible for the success of the kingdom’s sustainable development program, as they must cooperate to put development plans in place taking advantage of Saudi scholars’ expertise.

Regarding the KACARE plan, the component parts of the National Atlas of Renewable Energy Sources are expected to be completed by the end of the year in order to be used by universities, think-tanks, and the plan’s developers. KACARE says it will establish no fewer than 70 observation stations, of which 10 have already been equipped. The distribution of the stations throughout the kingdom has been carefully planned for the coming period in order to observe all climatic information to identify renewable energy resources in the country.

According to KACARE, enormous amounts of data need to be collected to plan the development of solar power at a particular site. It is important to identify the quality of solar radiation, which requires examining the quality and power of solar projection and the extent of the influence of other geographic and climatic factors such as dust, humidity, surface winds, soil, rust-causing agents, the degree of the Earth’s tilt, availability of water, natural shade created by mountains and other factors that affect electricity production.

KACARE is working with a number of national bodies expected to benefit the most from the plan, including King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology and King Abdulaziz Science and Technology University, the General Organization for Technical and Vocational Training, the Saudi Electricity Company, the Saudi Electricity Transmission Company, the Saline Water Conversion Corporation and the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu.

Researchers at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah also say that the development of new technologies like solar power are vital for Saudi Arabia’s future, being critical not only to meet its energy needs, but also as an important factor in its economic development plans.

They say that Saudi Arabia’s existing industrial endeavors are limited, and currently operate at levels far below what is required. Scholars at the university also say that development projects must provide job opportunities in a variety of fields in order to allow for the growth of industrial and commercial structures, which are still in the early phases of development, and are unable to compete with global rivals.

The university warned of the negative consequences of short-term fixes that could produce additional problems. It gave the example of temporarily solving the housing problem by building new homes in areas without any services, meaning new roads and facilities to be built. After a short time, people discover that they need to extend the sewers, power lines, telecommunications, water, tunnels, bridges, and so on and will be forced to dig repeatedly underground at prohibitive costs because of bad planning.