Saudis rev up plans for renewable energy

March 6, 2013 at 1:08 PM
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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, March 6 (UPI) -- Saudi Arabia has unveiled ambitious plans to develop renewable energy programs that will produce 54,000 megawatts of electricity by 2032, part of a strategy by the Persian Gulf petro-monarchies to save their oil for export.

The strategy paper recently published by the King Abdallah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, known as KA-Care, for the first time outlines the initial phases of the kingdom's agenda for its energy future.

The paper "does not just provide the blueprint for sustainable energy projects but lays out proposed targets for greater local participation in the workforce," observed the Middle East Economic Digest.

"The push for Saudisation is further evidence that Riyadh is thinking about the country's long-term future and is aware that its hydrocarbons resources will not last forever."

Saudi Arabia has oil reserves of 296.5 billion barrels and produces around 10 million barrels per day, in part to moderate oil prices. But with oil prices more than $100 a barrel and likely to stay that way, Riyadh wants to find ways to produce electricity without using hydrocarbon fuels and save 1.2 million barrels of oil per day by 2032.

The neighboring United Arab Emirates, with 8 percent of the world's proven oil reserves, has also embarked on a major renewables program, focusing, like the Saudis, on nuclear and solar energy production.

The Arab states in the gulf, which sit on around one-fifth of the world's oil reserves, are embarking on a green revolution that will transform their economies.

Saudi King Abdallah set up KA-Care in 2010 to develop alternative energy sources so the country won't have to burn millions of barrels of oil a year on power generation.

Little information on this economy-changing program has been made available but publication of the strategy paper has provided a glimpse of how the kingdom expects to proceed.

"With peak power demand expected to rise by more than 60 percent in the next 20 years, Saudi Arabia is aware that it must swiftly move forward with power projects to avoid severe shortages," MEED reported.

"In addition to the environmental concerns of building new capacity by burning fossil fuels, there will be major cost implications if the kingdom continues to use gas and oil."

The KA-Care paper outlined the "competitive procurement process" to tender and award contracts for the renewable energy projects, which are to be at sites easily connected to the national grid.

The technologies involved, at least in the initial phase of the master plan, are thermal solar, photo-voltaic solar, wind, geothermal and waste-to-energy, the strategy paper noted.

Under the plan, Saudi Arabia is to produce 23,900 MW of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020 and 54,000 MW by 2032.

Demand is expected to increase sharply in the next 20 years, to 75,000 MW by 2020 and 123,000 MW by 2032, based on an average growth rate of 4.5-5 percent a year.

To help meet this demand, Saudi Arabia plans to build a chain of at least 16 nuclear power stations under a $109 billion program, with the first operational by 2019.

The aim is to achieve an electricity output of 110GW by 2032. By comparison, solar energy plants would produce 41GW within 20 years while geothermal and waste-to-energy systems would be providing 4GW.

The United Arab Emirates has also launched a nuclear power program, which is more advanced than the Saudi effort.

The Emirates' program, launched in 2009, is much smaller than the Saudis', but still has a $30 billion price tag.

The gulf states of Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, as well as Egypt and Jordan, have also announced plans to invest in nuclear energy to crank up electricity generation to meet a burgeoning public and industrial demand.

The Saudis aim to have 41,000MW of solar capacity in the next two decades, says Maher al-Odan of KA-Care.

The kingdom plans to spend at least $109 billion over the next 20 years on a solar power network.

Eventually, solar energy advocates see the six Gulf Cooperation Council states -- Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain -- providing electricity to Egypt and the Middle East, and even Europe, eager to cut its dependence on Russian gas supplies.

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