Trade mission paves way for Saudi Arabia's solar market

Saudi Arabia’s solar PV potential is on the verge of being properly explored, according to representatives at some of the world’s leading energy and solar companies.

That view follows an investigatory excursion to the oil-rich kingdom for many of the industry’s leading figureheads. Held in November, the Solar PV Trade Mission in Saudi Arabia gathered together 20 representatives from global energy and solar power companies to explore the PV opportunities that exist in Saudi Arabia.

Arranged in conjunction with the Saudi Arabia Solar Industry Association (SASIA) and Solarplaza, and including the Desert Solar Conference, delegates included representatives from E.ON, Jinko Solar and Acciona Energia, who met with local industry stakeholders from Saudi Aramco, K.A.CARE and Advanced Electronics Company (AEC).

Those who attended the intensive fact-finding tour remarked that conditions were now in place for Saudi Arabia to fully explore the possibilities of its PV potential. Acciona Energia’s director of solar business development, Miguel Arraras, said: "Saudi Arabia is going to start with the renewables program in the short term, sometime between 12 and 18 months, because the main drivers here are economics."

Equally, E.ON’s Ahemd Mulla, the company’s project development director of renewables for the MENA region, added: “Overall the Saudi trade mission was a huge success. Before arriving, E.ON believed in the potential for renewables in the kingdom. Information gained from the meetings and presentations during our time there has given us confidence that it is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’.

"There are challenges, of course, pertaining to operating in the harsh desert environment, which we were glad to hear are being proactively investigated by K.A.CARE and KAUST, such as the impact on electricity output due to dust accumulation on solar panels. These research and development activities will pave the way for an indigenous industry, creating jobs throughout the value chain and knowledge export."

International cooperation

An overriding perspective among the majority of delegates was the importance of, and appetite for, international cooperation between Saudi companies and financers, and overseas experts. There were hints of relationships emerging between domestic and international providers, with local knowledge set to collaborate closely with foreign technical know-how in order to fully maximize the country’s potential.

Despite the lack of any legal framework for solar in the country, Saudi Arabia’s energy wealth via fossil fuels allows it to evaluate and pursue a unique energy model, the trade mission found. The fine print of PPA’s, for example, is likely to differ from the norm, particularly in relation to tariffs and despatch methods and timing. Allied with a local lack of knowledge of solar, visiting delegates were nonetheless encouraged by the evident thirst for technology, collaboration and guidance in the market, with PV outstripping CSP as the most favored future source of renewable energy, the delegates found.