AL UYAYNA, Saudi Arabia (AFP) — Saudi engineers whip up a simulated sandstorm to test a solar panel’s durability at a research lab, the heart of the oil-rich kingdom’s multi-billion-dollar quest to be a renewable energy powerhouse.
The world’s top exporter of crude seems an unlikely champion of clean energy, but the government lab in Al Uyayna, a sun-drenched village near Riyadh, is leading the country’s efforts for solar power as it seeks to diversify.
A dazzling spotlight was shone on those ambitions last week when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled plans to develop the globe’s biggest solar power project for $200 billion in partnership with Japan’s SoftBank group.
The memorandum of understanding to produce up to 200 gigawatts of power by 2030 —- about 100 times the capacity of the current biggest projects —- was the latest jaw-dropping statement as the Saudis look to wean themselves off oil.
If built on one site, the solar farm would cover an area twice the size of Hong Kong, according to a Bloomberg News calculation.
While the scale of the plan has stirred some disbelief — the agreement announced in the US was greeted with determination at the laboratory.
“We can do it,” said Adel al-Sheheween, director of the solar laboratory under the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.
“This may take time, but we have all the raw materials —- sunshine, land and most importantly, the will,” he added, giving AFP a tour of the facility widely known as Solar Village.
Engineers were working away testing solar panels under harsh conditions.
A miniature sandstorm inside a cylindrical chamber battered one panel. A machine with what appeared to be a large boxing glove punched another.
The site, which also includes a solar field that supplies electricity to neighboring villages, was established some three decades ago.
But the push for renewables only now appears to be gaining momentum.
It is driven by a key incentive —- to free up more oil reserves for export, the kingdom’s chief revenue earner.
View all SMART GRID Bulletins click here