Saudi Arabia to consider 41GW solar capacity target

A government agency tasked with formulating Saudi Arabia’s future energy strategy has recommended that Riyadh adopt a 41GW solar target for 2032, as the kingdom looks to conserve its hydrocarbons for export.

Of that, 25GW would come from concentrating solar power (CSP) and 16GW from PV. Wind, geothermal and nuclear would contribute another 21GW.

The targets will not be formally adopted by the government until later this year, and even then they are likely to remain non-binding. But the sheer size of the solar aspiration – by far the world’s most ambitious – underscores the seriousness with which Middle Eastern countries have started taking solar energy since the price of crystalline silicon modules went into freefall.

The target was put forward by the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (Ka-Care), a body established by the government in 2010 to help Saudi Arabia grapple with its massive energy and sustainability challenges.

It is understood that Saudi Arabia will launch its first solar tender early next year covering 1.1GW of PV and 900MW of CSP, with a second tender to follow in 2014.

Like many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Saudi Arabia is grappling with rampant increases in demand for energy, and is burning an ever higher share of its own oil for electricity generation and desalinisation.

Earlier this year Dubai set a 1GW solar target for 2030, while Abu Dhabi’s Masdar is on track to finish the 100MW Shams 1 parabolic-trough plant by mid-year.

PV manufacturers and system-integrators are ramping up their marketing efforts across the Middle East to capture a share of what many analysts believe will be one of the world’s fastest growing markets in the decades ahead.

Ka-Care estimates Saudi Arabia’s solar fields would cost more than $80bn, with another $30bn to be earmarked for operations and maintenance and training local workers.

But cracking into Middle Eastern markets will not be easy for traditional solar manufacturers. Like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia has made clear its intention to foster a domestic solar industry – and local-content rules are likely to be put in place.

Earlier this year Germany’s Centrotherm won an order to build a 10,000 metric tonne polysilicon foundry for a customer in the Saudi port town of Yanbu, and South Korea’s KCC Corporation is working with a local partner to build a PV-grade polysilicon plant at Jubail.

Japanese thin-film manufacturer Solar Frontier is owned by Showa Shell, which is itself part-owned by Saudi Aramco.

Industry sources say the rules governing competitive tenders in Middle Eastern and North African countries can be murky, and that the investment case is further clouded by ongoing subsidies for carbon-based fuels.