This post was written by Katherine Cunningham, an intern at the U.S. Department of State and currently a senior at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She majors in International Affairs with a concentration in International Environmental Resources.
As the world confronts climate change, countries are turning to alternative energy sources, such as solar panels and wind turbines, to reduce greenhouse gas output. These two alternative energy sources are renewable, which means the source will always be available in the future. This is in contrast to nonrenewable sources, such as oil and gas, of which there is a definite or finite amount on the Earth’s surface.
Saudi Arabia is one country that is pursuing a renewable energy program and recently completed a solar farm project in its capital Riyadh. As a country known for its large oil reserves, this is a very impressive project. According to RenewableEnergyWorld.com, Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil producer, and 80 percent of its exports and revenue come from the production and sale of hydrocarbon resources. Saudi Arabia is also the largest oil consumer in the Middle East, and if it doesn’t reduce its energy demand, it could become an oil importer by 2030. Therefore, as a country that receives some of the most intense sunlight in the world, Saudi Arabia is diversifying its energy sources by utilizing the power of the sun. According to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C., Saudi Arabia receives about 105 trillion kilowatt hours of sunlight a day which equates roughly to 10 billion barrels of crude oil in energy terms.
Solar panels, made up of photovoltaic cells, are a renewable energy source that work by using light energy from the sun to generate electricity. The Saudi Arabian solar farm located in Riyadh consists of 12,684 solar panels and was completed in early 2013. By 2032, Saudi Arabia hopes to produce 16 gigawatts (GW) of solar power (photovoltaic) and 25 GW of concentrated solar power, allowing the country to reduce domestic consumption of oil, decrease its release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and even export electricity to countries in Europe. You can learn more about Saudi Arabia’s plan to export electricity here.
It is clear that the Saudi Arabian government is excited about their solar energy initiatives. At a recent talk held at the Center for Strategic & International Studies on April 30th, 2013, Saudi Minister of Oil Al-Naimi recognized the importance of solar energy when he said “we hope solar energy will help meet a growing share of our electricity needs – and even help us create a thriving solar industry and expertise in the Kingdom.”
How will Saudi Arabia’s investment in renewable energy, specifically solar power, benefit the country beyond the reasons listed above? Consider that the electricity will be used for water desalination and agriculture, as well as to power water pumps, refrigerators, air conditioners, heaters, and communications equipment. Would a renewable energy project work in your country? If so, what type of project would be best?
This entry reflects the author’s personal judgments and does not represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State.