Desert Solar conference instills Saudi confidence

This week’s one-day Desert Solar conference – held at the Sheraton Riyadh Hotel & Towers in the Saudi capital – drew a highly focused set of attendees keen on discussing the opportunities that exist in Saudi Arabia’s fledgling solar industry.

That was the view of Browning Rockwell, Executive Director of Saudi Arabia Solar Industries Association (SASIA), who spoke to pv magazine at the end of a wider four-day Solar PV Trade Mission to the country.

The Desert Solar conference formed part of the Trade Mission (both organized by Solarplaza), which was an intensive fact-finding excursion for 20 high-level PV executives and included representatives from Jinko Solar and European energy giants E.ON.

They had flown to Saudi Arabia to explore the nation’s burgeoning potential, network with local solar companies and discuss strategies for helping advance the solar market in Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East region.

"We had a high quality of attendee at this event, drawn both from an international perspective and with a higher percentage of Saudis in attendance than we’ve had previously," revealed Rockwell. "By bringing up the price of admission this year, we attracted fewer attendees but a more focused audience."

A waiting game

Discussion centered on Saudi Arabia’s unique climate, wealth structure and geographical location, with attendees eager to explore ways in which the country can best develop its desert solar industry in particular.

Rockwell stressed, however, that despite the heightened interest in Saudi Arabia’s solar potential – from both an international perspective and domestically – the market is not yet quite ready to commence large scale development and deployment.

"What we saw at the conference were a number of companies that were looking at maybe setting up joint ventures in manufacturing. We also saw a number of developers looking at how they would enter the market, and we also had banks, many of them local, making contact to see how the financial aspects would work. But at this point in the market for solar in Saudi Arabia, it is not really about making deals or building projects just yet."

The country is targeting 6,000 MW of solar PV capacity by 2020 – a target that if it is to be hit on time would necessitate the installation of around 10,000 solar panels per day.

While that is not yet happening, Rockwell did stress that the next 12 to 18 months will see the wheels turning much faster than currently. "The Desert Solar conference was attended by a lot of smart and experienced people who are more risk-averse in emerging markets.

"They know it takes time to develop relationships and find the right types of contacts and partnerships. That’s the situation we’re dealing with in Saudi Arabia. It’s a market of patience."