The Daily Update - Saudi Arabia’s Solar

It’s well known that the 3 things Saudi Arabia has in abundance are, oil, sun and land. As well has having some of the world’s largest oil fields, it also has some of the world’s most intense sunlight, and vast expanses of open desert. Over the last few years the kingdom has been slow to catch on when it comes to renewable energy (for obvious reasons), especially solar, however that all might be about to change. At the moment Saudi Arabia produces most of its electricity by burning oil, over 70% of which was consumed by air conditioners in 2013. With a population of just over 30m people, this makes it the 6th largest consumer of oil on the planet. At the moment approximately 25% of the oil the Saudi’s lift goes towards domestic consumption, and this was growing at 7% a year.

Over the last few years prices of solar panels have not only dropped over 80%, mainly due to China producing not only inexpensive solar panels, but their efficiency has reached levels unheard of only a few years ago. In 2012, Saudi Arabia announced a goal of producing 41 gigawatts (GW) of solar electricity by 2032, at the time this would have been slightly more than the then world leader, Germany. Now, estimates vary, however, it is thought this will meet approximately 20% of the country’s energy needs - a very aggressive target, considering at the moment solar supplies virtually none of their electricity. Added to this, in March of this year, they signed a memorandum of understanding with South Korea to build the country's first 2 nuclear power stations.

As well as looking towards renewables and nuclear power, the kingdom is also setting aggressive new targets for energy efficiency. The target is to save 20% of energy needs by 2030 through an efficiency drive. Since January of last year, the government has targeted everything from air conditioning units to requiring all new builds to be insulated. It even imposed a minimum fuel economy standard on all new cars. Within days of the announcement the Ministry of Commerce and Industry confiscated over 40,000 air conditioning units from shops that didn’t meet the country’s new energy efficiency requirements. Over 15,000 units were confiscated in the first 4 days of the campaign alone.

It’s interesting to note that the most famous house in the world also has solar panels - the White House. Solar panels were originally installed by Jimmy Carter in 1979 during the second oil shock. When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 one of his first moves was to order their removal as he felt that the equipment was “just a joke”. That’s how it stayed until President Barack Obama, who had made the environment a key area of his campaign when running in 2010, ordered there reinstallation. This was completed in 2013 and now produces nearly 20,000 kilowatts hours of electricity every year.