Saudi Arabia has selected NREL as its partner to install monitoring stations in the country to measure solar radiation and gauge where the best areas are for solar power plants. NREL will also be training local Saudis to operate and maintain these systems. The laboratory, with its partner Battelle, won the contract after Saudi Arabia put the project out for bidding.
Tom Stoffel, NREL’s group leader for Solar Resources and Forecasting, added that Saudi Arabia wants to embark and finish this project quickly to demonstrate to stakeholders and potential investors the capacity the country has for renewable energy.
Measurement stations and their function
Some stations will research quality, using instruments similar to the best ones at NREL. Others will be self-contained stations powered by PV and placed farther into deserts and remote areas in the country. One more type of station will measure subsets of factors that larger stations measure. They will be responsible for the big climatic picture that includes determining the role of microclimates and cloud cover impacts. Teams will maintain these stations every week or two.
Three solar measurement stations have been set up as part of an initial training and outreach event, one in Riyadh, one just outside of Riyadh and one near where King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (K.A.CARE) will be.
NREL senior engineer Stephen Wilcox added, "It’s important that they know precisely what the solar resource is so the financial stakeholders can know exactly what kind of return to expect. The more uncertainty in the measurements, the more uncertainty there is in the analysis. They could either make $100 million or lose $100 million based on how well the measurements are taken."
NREL’s teams have mapped renewable energy resources in several countries. The data the stations collect in Saudi Arabia will be compared to data NREL has collected worldwide. This will be incorporated into the K.A.CARE Renewable Resource Atlas, currently under development by Battelle as part of the same project, and will be available online. Among the information will be data on solar radiation, the solar spectrum, temperature, dust levels, humidity, and wind speeds.
Saudi Arabia aims for the top
The Saudi Arabian government has dedicated more than US$108.9 billion towards installing more than 50 GW of renewable power. 41 GW of solar power is expected to be developed by 2032. This will meet 30% of the energy needs. Renewable energy contracts worth $7 billion are expected this year alone.
"Saudi Arabia is determined to diversify our energy sources and reduce our dependence on hydrocarbons," said Wail Bamhair, the project manager for the Saudi team that visited NREL. "Renewable energy isn’t just an option, but absolutely necessary. We have the means to build renewable energy, and we need to do it." He also added that the Saudi Arabian dream is to move "Saudi Arabia to the first rank of nations in terms of sustainable energy."