Solar will dominate Neom City’s energy mix, but CSP may prevail


Neom City is a futuristic city that the Saudi Arabian government plans to build in Tabuk region. The $500 billion city will include a range of smart technologies and will serve as a “living laboratory and hub for innovation,” according to its planners. It will also be exclusively powered by renewable energy.

According to a new study from Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University, the city could use a mix of solar thermal, photovoltaic, wind, and battery energy storage: And all of these sources should be bundled together with artificial intelligence (AI) tech.

“There will be no competition between the different renewable energy technologies and synergies will be the key,” researcher Alberto Boretti told pv magazine.

Boretti said AI will resolve most of the issues related to renewable energy integration, mainly by matching energy demand from individuals and organizations. Concentrated solar power (CSP), which Boretti defined as the only renewable energy source with the added value of dispatchability, will prevail over PV and wind, as it can rely on internal molten salt energy storage, so it won't need external solutions for storage.

“Once a few technical issues are properly addressed, and a fully functional industrial product is made available, then CSP with internal storage has a better cost for dispatchable electricity,” he said.

He said oversizing large-scale CSP plants will enable the technology to reach a levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) of $0.075/kWh at Neom City.

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“The LCOE of PV per kilowatt-hour is the lowest between renewable energies – projected at $0.03/kWh. The problem is the external energy storage – that is very expensive and not that environmentally friendly,” Boretti explained. “Lithium-ion batteries are expensive in general and prohibitive for the specific locations with a lot of sand, dust and extreme temperature.”

He said AI is already being used to forecast electricity prices in energy markets, to guide the purchasing and storage of power, as well as the sale and release of electricity.

“Neom City will be a formidable challenge for the further development of renewable energy techniques, in particular, concentrated solar power with internal thermal energy storage by molten salt, the less developed but more promising, of the portfolio of wind and solar opportunities,” Boretti concluded.

He presented his analysis in “Integration of solar thermal and photovoltaic, wind, and battery energy storage through AI in NEOM city,” which was recently published in Energy and AI.

The Neom City project is part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's efforts to shift to a less oil-dependent economy. “I am not sure how soon Neom will be built,” Indra Overland, the head of the Center for Energy Research (NUPI), told pv magazine in March 2019. “The concept is similar to that of Masdar in the United Arab Emirates, which has had an important symbolic effect, but nothing revolutionary. If it is built at some point, it may be important symbolically and in terms of setting precedents and testing out avenues of change for Saudi Arabia.”

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