Saudi Arabia and Dubai Investing Heavily in Solar-Powered Future

Saudi Arabia and Dubai are preparing for a post-fossil fuel world by investing heavily in new solar power technologies.
John Loeffler

Saudi Arabia and Dubai are building advanced solar power systems that they hope will be a major part of the two countries' move to diversify its energy sector over the next decade.

Concentrated Solar Power

According to a new report in Arab News, Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in a new solar power plan that it hopes will help it transition away from over-reliance on oil in the decades ahead.


The centerpiece of this plan is concentrated solar power (CSP), a solar power technology that has gained a lot of traction over the past few years without as much press as the more well known solar power technologies, like photovoltaic (PV) cells.

The key difference is that instead of using photons from sunlight and converting them into direct current, as photovoltaic panels do, CSP systems use the heat generated by sunlight to convert water into steam, which is used to turn a turbine and generate electricity.

In a CSP system, sunlight is reflected off an array of mirrors angled so as to reflect sunlight up to a receiver at the top of a tower. Inside the receiver, a circuit of water is piped in from below and is converted into steam. This steam is then used to power a turbine, condensed back into water, and fed back into the tower to begin the process all over again.

“It’s a completely different technology [than PV] because you have to do a heat exchange and (use) steam turbines, a process that makes it more expensive than solar PV,” said Abdulhameed Al-Muhaidib, director of asset management at Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power.

“The main benefit is storage because you can store heat, while in panels you can’t and lithium batteries are still expensive.”

“But for the first time,” he adds, “the price for the new CSP technology has gone under double digits, reaching 7.3 cents per kilowatt hour.”

Meanwhile, A CSP project in neighboring Dubai is under construction that will feature a 260-meter solar tower and it is expected to provide 320,000 residents with power generated from a renewable resource 24-hours a day, preventing 1.6 million tons of carbon emissions annually. When the project is completed, it is expected to reduce carbon emissions by more than 6.5 million tons annually.

“The solar park will produce 5,000 MW by 2030," said Saeed Al-Tayer, managing director and CEO of the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority. "The project will cover an area of 44 sq km and achieve several world records, including the world’s lowest CSP cost of electricity, the tallest solar tower in the world, and the largest thermal storage capacity allowing for round-the-clock energy availability."

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