How solar power is aiding energy transition in Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states

Solar panels on a camel trail and hiking path south of Riyadh. The Kingdom has set itself the target of generating half of its power needs from renewable sources by 2030 — 60 GW of solar and other forms of clean energy. (Shutterstock)
Solar panels on a camel trail and hiking path south of Riyadh. The Kingdom has set itself the target of generating half of its power needs from renewable sources by 2030 — 60 GW of solar and other forms of clean energy. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 17 April 2022

How solar power is aiding energy transition in Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states

Solar panels on a camel trail and hiking path south of Riyadh. The Kingdom has set itself the target of generating half of its power needs from renewable sources by 2030 — 60 GW of solar and other forms of clean energy. (Shutterstock)
  • Gulf states are diversifying their economies into solar energy production to meet their net-zero targets
  • A recent MESIA report named Saudi Arabia as a “booming market” for renewable energy investment

DUBAI: Gulf states are stepping up the transition to renewable energy by launching ambitious infrastructure projects designed to help reduce their reliance on oil and gas to meet domestic energy needs.

Some of these projects will enable Saudi Arabia to expand its total solar energy capacity by almost 40 gigawatts by 2025 from the current 455 megawatts. Specific development plans in the Kingdom include the NEOM smart city, which will include a $5 billion hydrogen plant, and the Red Sea Project, which will have the capacity to generate 400 MW of solar power and will host the world’s largest off-grid energy-storage project to date.

“Saudi Arabia is making notable progress with its plans to develop clean energy and reduce emissions,” Denisa Fainis, general secretary of the Middle East Solar Industry Association, told Arab News.

“The climate measures will go hand in hand with tending to the continued high demand for fossil fuels. As the world’s largest oil exporter, more than half of Saudi Arabia’s revenues come from its fossil fuel sector.”




Solar panels at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology. (Reuters/File Photo)

MESIA’s latest report, published in January, listed Saudi Arabia as one of the world’s “booming markets in the renewable-energy sector, bringing more investors and developers to participate in huge projects than any other.” It said improvements in regulatory frameworks had helped the country to position itself among a group of nations that is leading the clean-energy revolution.

The Kingdom’s $500 billion NEOM megaproject will play a key role in efforts to diversify the Saudi economy while drawing exclusively from clean energy resources. It is estimated that NEOM will require between 20 and 40 GW of solar and wind power capacity to meet its energy requirements when it becomes operational in 2025.

Authorities in the Kingdom are planning several other projects in areas such as the Red Sea, Madinah, Qurayyat, Jeddah and Wadi Al-Dawasir to help reach the national target of net-zero emissions by 2060.

Elsewhere in the region, the 800 MW Al-Kharsaah solar project in Qatar is expected to be operational by mid-2022. In the UAE, the 5,000 MW Mohammed Bin Rashid Solar Park in Dubai and Al-Dhafra Solar Project, which will have a capacity of 2,000 MW, will be commissioned in stages by 2030.

Authorities in Iraq, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia have launched similar projects that are in the development or tender phases.

Significantly, many nations in the region view the energy transition as an opportunity for economic growth and the creation of jobs, including the potential to manufacture solar-power components locally.




Saudis work at a solar panel factory in Uyayna, north of Riyadh. (AFP/File Photo)

The Gulf region obviously enjoys a geographical advantage in the solar-energy sector, thanks to plentiful sunshine and its proximity to Africa, Europe and other countries in the Middle East, which positions it to become a long-term energy exporter.

“By capturing photovoltaic energy from the biggest source in the universe and providing access to electricity to areas that still rely on fossil fuels, we can reduce carbon emissions, reduce costs in business operations and maintenance, and improve air quality, while further development in the sector will provide jobs for generations to come,” Fainis said.

In the five years since announcing their Vision 2030 economic-reforms agenda, Saudi authorities have been forging ahead quickly with plans for the development of the renewable-energy sector. The Kingdom has set for itself the target of generating half of its power needs from renewable sources by 2030 — that is, 60 GW of solar and other forms of clean energy.

Saudi Arabia is also planning to increase sustainability through the adoption of a circular carbon economy approach, a massive tree-planting campaign, the reduction of carbon emissions by more than four percent of global contributions, and measures to combat pollution and land degradation.

The country is also planning to issue its first green bond early this year that complies with environmental, social and governance concerns. Such bonds will become one of the main funding channels for the Kingdom’s future.

As part of Vision 2030, the Ministry of Energy is building two renewable-energy plants, with a capacity of 600 MW, in the Third Industrial City in Jeddah and Industrial City in Rabigh. The projects are being implemented through MODON, the Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones.




Gulf states are stepping up the transition to renewable energy by launching ambitious infrastructure projects designed to help reduce their reliance on oil and gas. (AFP/File Photo)

Meanwhile, a Red Sea battery-storage project will help to ensure the new resort destination taking shape along the Kingdom’s western coastline is powered entirely by renewables, and the Kingdom also plans to establish 23 solar panel factories in 12 industrial cities. At the end of last year, the largest solar plant in the region, with a production capacity of up to 1.2 GW, was inaugurated in Tabuk.

Saudi Arabia’s successes and ambitious plans are indicative of a wider trend. According to MESIA, solar capacity in the Middle East and North Africa region has the potential to reach up to 8,309 MW this year as the region adds more renewable-energy projects to meet individual national targets and transition strategies.

“There is massive expansion that can be anticipated in the next decade for the MENA region, (which is) particularly attractive for solar investments as the region has some of the highest solar-irradiation levels in the world,” Fainis said.

In addition to production, she believes the Arab region could also take the lead in storage solutions, which is another as-yet untapped area.

Countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also rapidly adopting the use of new technology in the renewables sector, including artificial intelligence systems. According to MESIA, the Saudi smart grid market is expected to be worth $3.6 billion by 2030. Indeed, NEOM is expected to be powered entirely by AI-controlled solutions that use 100 percent renewable energy.

“Broadly, the MENA region has an ideal combination of large usable land areas for photovoltaic solar plants and high solar irradiation levels to maximize energy generation from solar energy,” MESIA said in its report in January.

Solar and wind power are not the only renewables attracting a flurry of investment. Green hydrogen is viewed as a significant emerging player in the energy mix as part of the process to achieve the net-zero targets set by regional governments, particularly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.




The capacity of the world’s largest single-contracted PV solar plant, to be located in Sudair Industrial City in Saudi Arabia’s north, will be 1,500MW. (Supplied)

All of these projects will be essential to the efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change in a region where the damage it causes is tangible.

Mercedes Maroto-Valer, director of the Research Center for Carbon Solutions at Heriot-Watt University in Dubai and director of the UK Industrial Decarbonization Research and Innovation Center, warned that the climate situation in the region is growing worse.

“Temperatures have also been on the rise, with the highest regional temperature to date recorded in Mitribah in Kuwait at 54C,” she told Arab News.

However, with the development of new technologies and the ambitious national targets agreed during the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last November, there is hope yet for a more sustainable future.

Fainis believes the MENA region must develop a local supply chain for equipment and training programs for the local workforce, build capacity in technology transfer, and continue to attract foreign investment.

“As populations grow, electricity demands will reach all-time highs,” she said. “Whether through energy auditors or initiatives by regulators, countries will have to adapt to the increasing energy needs.”


‘Asking for oil is simply wrong’: White House press secretary

‘Asking for oil is simply wrong’: White House press secretary
Updated 52 min 58 sec ago

‘Asking for oil is simply wrong’: White House press secretary

‘Asking for oil is simply wrong’: White House press secretary
  • Two senior US officials visited Saudi Arabia for talks this week

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said two senior US officials visited Saudi Arabia this week to “review engagement” on “energy security,” and not to ask for an increase in oil exports.

“Asking for oil is simply wrong. That’s the way that we see it and a misunderstanding of both the complexity of that issue as well as our multi-faceted discussions with the Saudis,” Jean-Pierre said on Thursday. 

The press secretary also said OPEC+ will make its own decision as it relates to oil and added, “We are in consultation with all relevant producers about market conditions including Saudi Arabia.”

 

Meeting senior Saudi officials in Riyadh were Brett McGurk, Biden’s top White House adviser on the Middle East, and Amos Hochstein, the State Department's energy envoy.

McGurk and Hochstein were in the region to follow up on conversations that include Iran’s destabilizing activities, and other regional issues, Jean-Pierre told reporters.


Surplus oil revenues will be invested in ‘resilience,’ Saudi Economy Minister Faisal Al-Ibrahim tells Arab News

Surplus oil revenues will be invested in ‘resilience,’ Saudi Economy Minister Faisal Al-Ibrahim tells Arab News
Updated 27 May 2022

Surplus oil revenues will be invested in ‘resilience,’ Saudi Economy Minister Faisal Al-Ibrahim tells Arab News

Surplus oil revenues will be invested in ‘resilience,’ Saudi Economy Minister Faisal Al-Ibrahim tells Arab News
  • Census 2022 will affect public services, goods made available to Kingdom’s residents, he says during interview in Davos
  • Saudi delegation of ministers shares knowledge and experience of past 7 years with top policymakers, investors, private sector, industry leaders

DAVOS: Surplus revenues from oil production will go into investing in “resilience,” the Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal Al-Ibrahim has said, referring to paying off debt, replenishing reserves, and accelerating transformational projects throughout the Kingdom.

“It’s ultimately going to help the private sector or help our investments that will open the door in front of the private sector to increase its activity,” he told Arab News at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos.

With a surplus of $15 billion, some of the Public Investment Fund’s owned and led projects will be given support so that they “are delivered either sooner or more effective,” he said.

Al-Ibrahim also noted the Kingdom’s census plans and urged all residents of Saudi Arabia to register.

“It’s very important, it will affect our planning and then it will affect the services and public goods that will be made available to all residents of the Kingdom, citizens, and expats,” he added.

The census had been set to launch in 2020 but was delayed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic and the strict lockdown measures introduced by the Saudi government to help stop the spread of the virus.

While the last census was in 2010, the minister was confident that technological advancements since then would ensure that the new data collected would be “sustainable.”

He said: “We don’t want to say in nine years from now, ‘this data is nine years old, and I can’t trust it.’ No, we did many more surveys, we did more projects, components that got you refreshed data.”

Al-Ibrahim was part of a delegation of seven Saudi ministers who participated in key forum events including panel discussions.

The delegation was headed by Minister of State Ibrahim Al-Assaf, and included Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih, Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan, Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah Al-Swaha, and Assistant Minister of Tourism Princess Haifa Al-Saud.

“I think our ambition from this meeting as a delegation is to deepen our conversations into the agenda-setting process, and we’ve achieved this with what might be a smaller number of ministers. But in the number of engagements, the top-tier engagements, it’s probably one of the highest.

“It’s an opportunity for us to rub shoulders with policymakers, investors, private sector and industry leaders because we have a wealth of knowledge, we have a lot of lessons learned from the last seven years that we can share.

Al-Ibrahim added: “But also, we have so many challenges that we’re still tackling that we can partner up and everybody’s interested, everybody’s looking at it.”


Saudi crown prince, Greek PM discuss boosting joint cooperation

Saudi crown prince, Greek PM discuss boosting joint cooperation
Updated 27 May 2022

Saudi crown prince, Greek PM discuss boosting joint cooperation

Saudi crown prince, Greek PM discuss boosting joint cooperation

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a phone call on Thursday from Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Kingdom’s official SPA news agency reported.
During the call, they reviewed the bilateral relations between the two countries, and discussed opportunities for joint cooperation in a number of fields.


Saudi minister hails Saudi Arabia’s role in public health

Saudi minister hails Saudi Arabia’s role in public health
Updated 27 May 2022

Saudi minister hails Saudi Arabia’s role in public health

Saudi minister hails Saudi Arabia’s role in public health
  • Al-Jalajel said that the Kingdom is one of the first countries that, during its leadership of the G20, initiated the extraordinary summit to combine efforts and contain the pandemic

GENEVA: Saudi Health Minister Fahad Al-Jalajel has praised the contributions made by the Kingdom to support global public health.

His remarks came during a speech he delivered at the 75th session of the World Health Organization General Assembly in Geneva, where he headed the Kingdom’s delegation.

Al-Jalajel said that the Kingdom is one of the first countries that, during its leadership of the G20, initiated the extraordinary summit to combine efforts and contain the pandemic, which resulted in unprecedented global cooperation.

Al-Jalajel noted that the Kingdom contributed to the establishment of the WHO’s Access to COVID-19 Tools and COVAX Facility initiatives.

The Saudi minister further said that the total aid provided by the Kingdom through the initiatives and with direct support to developing countries amounted to approximately $770 million.

Al-Jalajel congratulated WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on his reelection for a second five-year term and the renewal of the international community’s confidence in his leadership. 


No entry to Makkah without permit for expats

No entry to Makkah without permit for expats
Updated 27 May 2022

No entry to Makkah without permit for expats

No entry to Makkah without permit for expats
  • Measure will maintain order and security around holy sites, experts say

MAKKAH: The General Directorate of Public Security has required expatriates wishing to enter Makkah for Hajj to obtain a permit from authorities starting Thursday.

For expatriates to enter the holy city, one of the following documents is required: An entry permit to work in the holy sites issued by the competent authority, a residency permit (iqama) issued from Makkah, an Umrah permit or a Hajj permit.

Brig. Gen. Sami Al-Shuwairekh, the spokesman for Public Security, said that the measure was in line with the regulations for the Hajj pilgrimage for this year.

“As per these instructions, only expatriates who obtain a permit for entry to Makkah will be allowed into the holy city from Thursday. They can obtain permits from the competent authorities. All vehicles and residents that do not have the required documents will be turned back,” Al-Shuwairekh said.

Ahmed Saleh Al-Halabi, who specializes in Hajj and Umrah services, told Arab News that the changes are a result of years of monitoring entry to the holy sites. Practical measures can safely organize the entry of residents to Makkah, he said.

“This is in order to eradicate all sorts of infiltration of the holy sites, especially for residents who do not hold permits, and who are on vacation from their work and head to Makkah to work, or stay with their relatives and friends, and then infiltrate the holy sites to perform the pilgrimage. And as a result, they stay on sidewalks and sleep there which would impact the environment and the level of public cleanliness,” he added.

Dr. Othman Qazzaz, head of the media research and studies department at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute for Hajj and Umrah Research, told Arab News that the Kingdom is also making efforts to improve logistics services during Hajj, aiming to host a successful pilgrimage season.