Many experts anticipate that the rising global demand for energy coupled with reduced fossil fuel reserves will result in even more electricity price increases in the coming years. Consumers around the world are clamoring for safe, clean energy and are enthusiastic to do something positive for the environment. Today's leaders are besieged on all sides and have some tough decisions to make.
Saudi Arabia is no different. They are at a crossroads and the next ten years are going to be crucial. Domestic electricity demand is growing by 8% annually. Global prices for their main export, crude oil, have doubled in the last 3 years, trading at over US$ 100/barrel today. This is perhaps why Saudi Arabia, despite holding some 20 percent of the world’s oil reserves, announced early this year that they are looking at investing in renewable and alternative energy with a $100 billion spending drive to address its growing electricity demand and limit its dependence on crude. ”The kingdom sees solar power and other non-hydrocarbon sources as crucial parts of a plan to boost generating capacity by 50 percent in this decade,” said Abdullah al-Shehri, governor of Saudi Arabia’s Electricity and Co-Generation Regulatory Authority.
Current developments in the PV market in Saudi Arabia have been very encouraging. Rooftop solar installations have mushroomed across the country mainly as a result of mandates related to LEED certificates for green buildings or government pilots to test solar technology in the Saudi climate. Companies and institutions in the country are eager to demonstrate their green credentials and do their part to reduce C02 emissions.
With all these positive developments, there is no question that solar energy will increasingly play a part in Saudi Arabia’s energy mix.
Solar PV is well suited to Saudi Arabia for a number of reasons: 1) the country is blessed with one of the best solar insolation levels in the world at 2130 kWh/m2/year, 2) deserts and other unproductive open land are abundant while 3) rooftop locations are available with all the new construction projects planned. With these large rooftop installations, solar electricity can be generated where it is needed which significantly reduces power losses associated with lengthy cables and transmission lines. But along with these advantages, deploying solar PV in the region may also pose some challenges: climate conditions in the city bring about dust accumulation while the high temperatures and high humidity in coastal cities especially in Eastern Province of the Kingdom in the summer time reduce the output of PV systems.
In Riyadh, the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) will be reducing its dependence on the kingdom’s oil reserves by relying on solar PV technology for a portion of its energy requirements. German system supplier Conergy is currently building the solar installation in collaboration with local partner Modern Times Technical Systems (MTTS). Over 800 Conergy PowerPlus 230M modules are being installed on some 1.7 kilometres of Conergy SunTop III mounting systems together with 14 Conergy string inverters across a 1,300 sqm rooftop surface. With this solar system, the KAFD is choosing sustainable architecture with the aim of achieving one of the most significant eco certifications in the world: the “LEED Gold” certification awarded by the US Green Building Council. At close to 200 kilowatts, the solar plant will not only be the first but also the largest rooftop plant in Riyadh. Once the system is completed by the end of June, over 330 megawatt hours of clean energy will be generated each year – enough to power 1,500 computers in the financial centre. The solar plant will prevent the emission of 180 tons of the damaging greenhouse gas CO2 annually.
Currently, there are more solar plants under construction in Saudi Arabia with a total capacity of some 15 megawatts. Conergy has been contributing for many years now to the expansion of solar energy in the country: in 2010, the solar energy company erected the first large scale solar system in the Kingdom, at 2 megawatts on the roof of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal.
As illustrated above, solar PV can easily be integrated in the built environment. However, it is best to consider including solar systems very early on in the planning process, even as the main building design is still being drawn up rather than at a later stage. Last minute decisions to include a solar installation while the building structure is still being erected by other contractors can prove to be difficult and can cause delays. Furthermore, not many general contractors in the country are familiar with the solar PV technology yet. More effort will be required going forward to help raise consultants’ level of awareness about solar PV so that they can come out with the ideal specifications and requirements for the green buildings they are developing.
Solar regulations will also help to develop the market faster and assist in realizing the government’s green hopes. KA-CARE or the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy was established in Riyadh city to look after future renewable energy expansion throughout the Kingdom. Meanwhile, entities like Saudi Aramco and universities like KAUST, KACST and KFUPM are collaborating with the local and international industrial sector to raise the level of the awareness of the new sustainable technologies being developed in the market.
Ultimately it is the Saudi people who will benefit from the proliferation of these solar power sources. They are making a commitment to conserving the environment on many levels, be it shifting to eco cars/hybrids, using renewable energy sources and reducing their dependence on fossil fuels, an achievement all Saudi people can be proud of.