Saudi firms eye wind projects to meet new national renewables target

Major firms like Saudi Aramco and ACWA Power are mulling wind projects as well as solar plants to meet fresh targets set out in Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan, leading company officials said at the MENAWind-MENASol conference on May 25.

Saudi Arabia has lagged behind other Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries on renewable energy deployment but the Kingdom’s new Vision 2030 Plan sets a target of 9.5 GW renewables by 2023 and plans large-scale industrialization projects.

Saudi Aramco's increasing participation in the renewable energy space has seen the firm scrutinize wind and solar projects and approach new build "from a technology neutral point of view," Tim Polega, Head of Saudi Aramco's renewable energy program, told conference attendees.

“As the renewable program starts to move forward in the Kingdom, [Saudi Arabian] companies are expected to play prominent roles, but we also expect a great deal of international participation,” Polega said.

Saudi Arabia has the greatest potential for renewable energy in the MENA region. As well as direct normal solar irradiation of 2,500 kWh/m2/year, the Kingdom has high wind potential with net wind speed of over 7 metres per second in some areas and sufficient land area to develop utility-scale plants, according to a recent report by the PWC consultancy and Eversheds law firm.

Saudi companies have already invested close to $5.5 billion in renewable projects globally, and their committed pipeline is about $16 billion by 2018, although very little of that is in Saudi Arabia, Polega said.

Domestic companies are expected to play a major role in Saudi Arabia's renewables surge and firms such as ACWA Power have already been highly active in the MENA region.

ACWA Power has pooled wind and solar expertise from around the world and the developer sees itself as "technology agnostic," Thomas Altmann, the firm's VP & Chief Technology Officer, said.

"We look at what the project requirement is," he said.

Altmann noted that Saudi Arabia's desalination facilities require high levels of baseload power generation and in this context hybrid solar and wind projects can play a key role in reducing the use of fossil fuels.

Morocco is one Middle East and North Africa (MENA) country which has already made strong progress in wind and solar deployment.

Morocco currently has a wind capacity of around 800 MW, and capacity is expected to grow significantly in the coming decade. The North African country wants 42%, around 6 GW, of its total energy mix to come from solar, wind and hydroelectric sources by 2020.

“We have a target to achieve 52% of installed renewable energy capacity by 2030, which will need to come from solar, wind and hydro. So importance is given to all three technologies,” Mohamed Sahri, Project Manager – structuring at Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN), told the conference.

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