Solar industry waits for Saudi

SolarReserve CEO Kevin Smith says regulatory policy is needed to promote the solar industry in Saudi Arabia in order to reduce oil consumption in the country

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Kevin Smith, chief executive officer of SolarReserve LLC, an American power plant developing firm tells Big Project ME about the expanding solar sector around the world and in the Middle East; and why it is imperative that Saudi Arabia focuses on enhancing its solar capacities. 

What is the current scope of solar energy generation?

There’s two ways of harnessing solar energy – one is the rooftop model and the other is large-scale setups. The rooftop model is restricted to use by home– and business–owners, while enormous plants are developed to produce solar capacities for infrastructural and city networks. They are two very diverse sides of the spectrum, and both are doing very well in all global markets where solar energy is accepted.

What are the challenges you face as a company dealing in solar power?

The biggest difficulty with solar energy is its intermittency. Daily operations stop when the sun goes down, which is why developing technology that can generate up to 10 hours’ of solar energy is gaining popularity in the market.

How advanced is the Middle East market for solar energy?

SolarReserve has actively been working in the Middle East market through independent setups and tie ups with partners since the last few years. Markets like Dubai in the UAE, and others in Qatar, Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia are keenly looking at building photovoltaic and solar thermal storage plants. Jordan is a relatively small market but is doing extremely well in the solar sector; small projects in Dubai are commencing operations.

The Saudi market is potentially the largest for solar energy in the GCC, and has previously expressed its desire to add up to 50GW of renewables to its energy sector by 2030. They have talked about a $120 billion programme, but haven’t rolled out any plans yet.

Is funding a concern with the Saudi market?

Legislative impetus is what Saudi’s solar sector needs right now, and it depends on how the government wants to go forward with the country’s solar development. The South African model has allowed for private sector participation and the country’s solar developments are doing reasonably well. The private sector in Saudi Arabia, both local firms and international included, is indeed very willing and capable of driving solar growth in the country and is waiting around to participate. But its involvement will depend on the regulatory policy issues in the country.

Is there an urgency to develop the solar sector in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia at present internally consumes 25% of the oil it produces; estimates suggest this consumption will triple by 2030. The country understands it needs alternatives for energy generation, and should ideally now work towards a policy to ramp up its solar energy capacities. Compare the rate of producing solar energy to the current oil prices in the market, and you will find the commercial advantages of solar generation.

Globally, do commercial motives hinder the growth of the solar sector?

The solar market was expensive when it first came to the fore, and was driven largely by the desire for clean energy and sustainable sources for it. Over the years, technology has made the solar sector more competitive to operate in and commercial success is now a driving factor in the industry. Either way, the solar sector will certainly grow, especially in the Middle East, because governments are actively looking for inexpensive alternatives to oil, LNG and so on.

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