Saudi Aramco turns to PV to 'displace hydrocarbons' from electricity generation

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It has long been an argument for PV rollout in the Gulf States and wider MENA region: That solar can produce electricity at far more cheaply and efficiently than relying on oil or even natural gas in the region. Fraunhofer ISE’s Eicke Weber has long advocated for this being a major driver of future growth of PV in the region, where fossil fuels are used for electricity prices at heavily discounted prices.

It now seems that Saudi Aramco has accepted this argument as the firm installs its first rooftop PV array on one of its buildings as a pilot project. While only small in capacity, at 35 kW in size utilizing 144 solar modules, the company indicates that the array at its Star Building is a sign of things to come.

“On a grand scale, these efforts are not just about injecting clean energy into the power grid,” said Nour Shihabuddin, an engineer with the Renewables Department, which managed the construction and commissioning of the rooftop installation. “By generating clean energy, we are displacing hydrocarbons that could be better utilized within the Kingdom or even exported, creating greater value for the Kingdom’s economy.”

The project is a part of a bigger program to see Saudi Aramco reduce its energy consumption at its “nonindustrial buildings” by 35% by 2020. LED lighting and new standards for thermal insulation are also a part of the scheme.

The performance of the PV array will be monitored closely as energy audits identify which Aramco buildings are a good fit for PV. “Information and statistics collected through this installation will be used for analyzing performance and planning future projects in the company and/or the Kingdom,” the Saudi Aramco statement reads. A real-time monitoring display installed in the building’s lobby will “promote the value and benefits of renewable installations.”

The array is not the first time Saudi Aramco has turned to PV, however, with the company having worked with Japanese module producer Solar Frontier to develop two projects for the company including a 10.5 MW carport array at facilities in Dhahran back in 2012.