The PV industry has been eyeing the MENA region and countries such as Saudi Arabia for some time. With oil the primary source of fuel for electricity generation, electricity itself remains heavily subsidized, opening the way for PV to deliver savings to state-owned energy companies. However, progress in the region has been slow particularly in Saudi Arabia.
This could be set to change, according to experts attending the Desert Solar Saudi Arabia conference, to be held next month in Riyadh. Solairdirects Thierry Lepercq will be speaking at the conference and he says that LCOE of PV in the region has fallen fast.
"Today in Saudi Arabia, it is possible to reach a solar LCOE of between US$70/MWh in the higher irradiation/elevation areas in the western part of the kingdom, and around US$90/MWh in the Gulf area," said Lepercq.
First Solars Saudi representative Raed Bkayrat said that local investors are becoming interested in PV.
"Recent developments in Saudi Arabia, such as the interest of local investors in financing PV projects and the growing amount of traction that EPC companies are gaining, are a clear indication of the Kingdom's potential to evolve into a sustainable solar energy market,"said Bkayrat.
"With access to all the critical elements – low-cost finance, land availability, high solar irradiance and locally-based, skilled resources – there is no reason why Saudi Arabia cannot achieve some of the lowest PV levelized costs of electricity in the region," Bkayrat continued.
Along with First Solar, thin film rival Solar Frontier is also active in Saudi Arabia, leveraging its links to the region through its parent company Showa Shell Sekiyu. Solar Frontier has supplied and installed a 10.5 MW carport installation at the Saudi Aramco Al Midra Tower and completed a 1 MW installation at the Nofa Equestrian Resort, near Riyadh, this year.
Thin film technology may be of interest to Saudi authorities because of the ability to establish manufacturing in the region with a high level of domestic content with the technology. Due to its monolithic processes, a thin film producer could establish a production facility in the country to serve the local market, with glass going in at one end of its production and thin film modules coming out the other.
It would, however, be incorrect to think that only thin film producers are interested in Saudi Arabia and the MENA region. Tom Werner, CEO of U.S. based producer SunPower, said that the companys 60% ownership by French oil giant Total gives it good access to Saudi Arabia.
What that does it allows us to have access to a mature relationship with the energy market. That tells us that markets in the Middle East that make economic sense dont necessarily get turned on when you want, said Werner.
The SunPower CEO added that while progress of PV in Saudi Arabia has been slow, that other countries in the region are moving forward with more pace. He does however, remain confident that the Kingdom will adopt solar power in time.
Saudi Arabia will happen, but anybody who tells you that they know when, you can be quite comfortable telling them that they dont really know, and nor do I, Werner told pv magazine. So patience is required and SunPower is there for the long haul.
The Desert Solar Conference will be held from 14-18 September and is being organized by Netherlands-based Solarplaza and the Saudi Arabia Solar Industry Association (SASIA).
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