Saudi Arabia is the largest consumer of petroleum in the Middle East, with domestic consumption reaching 4 million barrels per day in 2012 out of daily production of 10 million barrels. Saudi Arabia’s primary energy consumption per capita is four times higher than the world average. Strong industrial growth, subsidized oil prices, increasing energy demand for electricity and transportation is leading to a growing clamor for oil in the country. The total energy consumption in the Kingdom is rapidly rising at an average rate of about 6 percent per annum.
Solar Energy Prospects
To meet the rising local energy demand, Saudi Arabia plans to increase generating capacity to 120 GW by 2020. Residential sector holds the biggest share of total energy consumption, accounting for as much as 80 percent of the electricity usage. Despite being the leading oil producer as well as consumer, Saudi Arabia is showing deep interest in the development of large projects for tapping its rich renewable energy potential, especially solar power. The country plans to invest more than $100 billion in clean energy projects to meet its objective of getting one-third of electricity requirements from alternative energy resources.
There is a growing Interest in utilization of solar energy in Saudi Arabia as the country is blessed with abundant solar flux throughout the year. Saudi Arabia has one of the highest solar irradiation in the world, estimated at approximately 2,200 thermal kWh of solar radiation per square meter. The country is strategically located near the Sun Belt, not to mention wide availability of empty stretches of desert that may accommodate solar power generating infrastructure. Moreover, vast deposits of sand can be used in the manufacture of silicon PV cells which makes Saudi Arabia an attractive location for both CSP and PV power generation.
The first initiative from the government was the establishment of King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE) which is the official agency in-charge of promoting clean energy in the Kingdom. The kingdom is planning to add an additional 41 GW of solar power by 2032, with 16 GW to be generated by photovoltaics and 25 GW by solar thermal power plants. One of the major achievements was the establishment of 3.5MW PV project at the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center. Concentrated solar power is another interesting option for Saudi Arabia due to its strong dependence on desalination plants to meet its water requirement. Waste heat of a CSP power plant can be used to power seawater desalination projects.
Keeping in view its regional dominance, Saudi Arabia can play a vital role in the popularization of solar energy in the MENA region. Solar energy program may not only augment oil-wealth of the Kingdom, but also transform Saudi Arabia into a net solar power exporter in the near future.