Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of crude oil, is moving ahead of most of the world in another important area: renewable energy sources.
Embracing renewable energy is seen by most observers as a smart move for Saudi Arabia, even as crude oil has made it one of the richest countries in the world. Finite supplies of fossil fuels and energy economics are both at play, and Saudi Arabia has the resources to address both.
Khalid Al-Falih, chief executive of Saudi Arabian Oil Company, said at a conference earlier this year that the country is “looking at solar investments with great interest,” according to Bloomberg.
While the country is taking a slow but steady approach to solar energy – attempting to avoid the mistakes made in other countries that rushed quickly into investing in solar – the kingdom already has made important advances.
Ambitious goal by 2034
Saudi Arabia hopes to generate at least 30 percent of the country’s energy needs through solar power in the next 20 years, according to PV magazine. The kingdom’s solar efforts are currently led by King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, which recently signed an agreement with China’s National Nuclear Corporation to work together on researching renewable and nuclear energy options for the kingdom.
China is Saudi Arabia’s biggest trade partner, buying about one million barrels of crude from the kingdom every day.
There are environmental and business issues driving the kingdom’s decisions on solar.
Climate change in Saudi Arabia
While the issue of manmade influence on climate change and global warming remains a subject of debate in the United States, officials in Saudi Arabia agreed at a United Nations conference in 2012 that scientific evidence showed the need to cut back on fossil fuel emissions.
One Saudi official told Reuters, "Based on scientific evidence on climate change, the world needs to take action.”
The kingdom also expects energy demand in Saudi Arabia to double by 2028, to the equivalent of more than 8 million barrels of crude a day.
Saudi Arabia – with its sunny weather – is in a perfect position to maximize the use of solar power. Solar could provide the country with a cheaper power source for its ongoing desalinization plant projects, as well as some of the experimental agriculture projects (such as the Sahara Forest project in neighboring Qatar).
Solar power makes good business sense
Against the backdrop of rising energy needs, the finite nature of fossil fuels and increased environmental impacts from fossil fuel emissions, Saudi Arabia’s move into solar makes sense. It also is a good business move for the kingdom.
The country hopes to meet about 50 percent of its domestic energy needs with non-hydro carbon energy sources in the next 20 years, with 30 percent coming from solar and the rest from nuclear, wind, waste-to-energy and geothermal, according to PV Magazine.
Saudi Arabia currently uses about 25 percent of the crude oil it produces for domestic energy. Increased use of solar and other alternative energy resources could lead to exporting more crude to energy-hungry nations and larger profits for the kingdom.
According to the French company Solairedirect, one key indicator of how far Saudi Arabia has come in generating solar power is represented in the levelized cost of energy for solar in the kingdom. Solairedirect reports that Saudi Arabia already is between $70 to $100 per MWh. In comparison, the goal in the United States is to hit about $130 to $249 per MWh in 2019.
Levelized cost of energy is a method of calculating the cost of an energy source in comparison to other energy sources. The formula - which factors price, lifetime cost and lifetime electronic production – creates a standardized method of comparing the cost of various types of energy sources.
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