RIYADH — Saudi Arabia has the world’s second best solar resource after Chile’s Atacama Desert, making investment in solar a no-brainer as an alternative to burning its most precious resource.
The Kingdom has for several years been talking up its plans to become a major player in solar power, Gerard Wynn, a leading market analyst has said.
Four years ago a senior oil ministry official told Reuters: “We can export solar power to our neighbors on a very large scale and that is our strategic objective to diversify our economy. It will be huge.”
Since then the country has installed about 10 megawatts, a tiny fraction of cloudy England.
But the country has now detailed plans for installed renewable power capacity in 2020 and 2032 which could put the country among the world’s top five solar power producers, Wynn wrote in his column.
The competitiveness of solar photovoltaic (PV) power depends on the installed cost (including the price of solar modules and installation costs); local solar irradiation; and the cost of the alternative, as illustrated by the retail power price plus subsidies.
NASA solar irradiation data show that parts of Saudi Arabia are second only to the world’s driest desert, in Chile.
Solar module demand would be boosted by a similar shift in other sunny, emerging economies with subsidized fossil fuel power.
Saudi Arabia is dependent on electricity both for energy and water through desalination.
The main source of electricity is burning crude oil and increasingly, natural gas.
The country burned some 192.8 million barrels of crude to generate 129 million megawatt hours (MWh) of power in 2010, Saudi and International Energy Agency data show.
Saudi power generators pay about $4 per barrel for their oil, industry data show.
That works out at a running cost of $0.006 per kilowatt hours (kWh) in 2010, excluding all other capital, fixed and operating costs.
But accounting for the opportunity cost of exporting crude oil at international prices of $113 per barrel raises the economic cost of oil-fired power generation to $0.13 per kWh, ignoring all non-fuel costs.
A simplified solar cost calculator developed by the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates the cost of solar power at $0.07 per kWh under Saudi conditions.
That assumes a capacity factor of 33 percent as can be expected in sunnier locations in southern Saudi Arabia and a full capital cost of $1.5 per watt, a conservative estimate for utility-scale installations.
That is before taking into account the annual degradation of solar modules, and losses as result of dust, sand and high temperatures, none of which are deal-breakers. — Reuters