Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia unveiled its ambitious plan to install 41GW of solar power by 2032, including 25GW of CSP. The first bidding round for CSP projects will open early next year.
By Heba Hashem
Global players are already flocking to Saudi Arabia to put forward the best of their technologies, following the Kingdom’s decision to install 41GW of solar energy over the next 20 years, of which 25GW will be generated by concentrated solar power (CSP).
The first bidding round is set to open in the first quarter of 2013, when 0.9GW of CSP will up for sale, and the second round is planned for the third/fourth quarter of 2014, when 1.2GW of CSP will be offered. The minimum project size for sale is expected to be around 5MW.
PV will meet total daytime demand throughout the year, while nuclear, geothermal and waste-to-energy will meet base-load demand up to night-time during winter. CSP with storage, on the other hand, will meet the maximum demand difference between PV and base-load technologies, and hydrocarbons will fill the rest of the demand.
According to Dr. Khalid Al Sulaiman, VP of renewable energy at King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE), the trough and tower technologies are currently being assessed for the kingdom’s CSP projects. CSP technologies came under spotlight mainly due to their thermal energy storage and dispatchability advantages, as well as their hybridization capabilities that enable them to backup fossil or renewable fuel.
Solar desalination features strongly in Saudi Arabia’s solar agenda, and the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) aims to gradually make all desalination plants run by solar power. By next year, the kingdom’s first solar-powered seawater desalination plant is expected to come online.
The project is being constructed by King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) in Al-Khafji, near the border with Kuwait, and will be the world’s largest of its kind, producing 30,000 cubic metres of water per day for Al-Khafji’s 100,000 residents.
First arrivals showcase CSP
The Fourth Saudi Solar Energy Forum that took place this month saw attendance by several international CSP pioneers, including Abengoa, Novatec and Siemens. Having worked on Abu Dhabi’s Shams 1, Spain’s Abengoa presented their CSP technologies for the Kingdom, focusing on solar troughs and towers.
Daniel Pons Strigari, project manager at Abengoa, highlighted that unlike other renewable energy technologies, CSP offers dispatchable peak power, which strengthens energy security, and heat storage, through which thermal energy can be stored and released at a later point in time.
Highlighting further CSP benefits, he said, “For a PV or wind plant, the cost of the backup system to grant firm capacity is not included in the PV system’s Capex and Opex, while for a CSP plant, this cost is already included in the CSP system’s Capex and Opex”.
For successful implementation of CSP in the kingdom, Strigari emphasized key local factors that should be considered and measured, such as the meteorological conditions (DNI, wind speed, direction) and reduced visibility causes (dust and humidity).
Moreover, to adapt operation and maintenance and tailor-fit technology designs, solutions must be found for sandstorms, cleaning requirements, and the limited water resources, such as dry cooling. Lastly, he noted that local content could help lower the costs involved in the production, manufacturing and assembling phases.
Localising supply chains
Saudi-based Acwa Power also introduced its parabolic trough for electricity generation and desalinated water production. Acwa’s president and CEO Paddy Padmanathan explained that in a typical parabolic trough CSP plant, thermal storage accounts for 16% of costs, the power block for 28%, and the solar field for nearly 50%.
Within the solar field, more than 54% of costs come from non-equipment, with the collector assembly making up 8%, mirrors 12%, heat transfer fluid system 12%, tubes 16%, civil works 22%, steel structure 24%, and the monitoring system, I&C, and electrical equipment each accounting for 2% of costs.
“Non-equipment components of the solar field can be sourced locally from the very first project”, Padmanathan pointed out. The collector assembly, being the easiest to localise, can “always be done on site through a temporary facility”, and civil works, which mostly involve local labour and equipment, are available in most countries, he explained.
The hardest to localise may be the steel structure, given its required fabrication processes (welding and galvanization facilities). Consequently, the scope for localising support frame manufacturing depends on existing local capacities and material availability.
“Once equipments are localised, more than 80% of the value of the solar field can be local”, Padmanathan stated, adding that over the lifetime of a plant, operation & maintenance contributes 30% of the costs, which could potentially be up to 90% local content.
Considering the availability of hydrocarbons in the kingdom, hybrid plants present a feasible option, which is why Siemens has focused entirely on solar hybrid solutions for the region. Adrian Wood, Siemen’s regional director, proposed three solar hybrid options for Saudi Arabia: the integrated solar combined cycle, the solar gas hybrid, and CSP with supplemental gas firing.
Wood stated that hybrid plants have several advantages compared to standalone plants; the first is cost (only one, slightly larger steam turbine cycle is needed in hybrid plants); the second is efficiency (CSP fraction can make use of larger and more efficient bottoming cycle); and third is flexibility (hybrid power plants can offer a higher degree of flexibility/dispatchability than a pure CSP plant without storage).
What, then, is obstructing the country’s long-term solar plan? According to Browning Rockwell, founder of Saudi Arabia Solar Industry Association (SASIA), the kingdom has yet to define a suitable regulatory and commercial framework to integrate solar power into the conventional generation mix, and has yet to figure out the frequency of maintenance and water use.
The industry will also need to identify performance levels during summer months and to overcome operational issues relating to dust, haze, humidity and fog. “Pilot projects will help answer many of these questions”, says Rockwell.
Public finance instruments will be crucial in lowering the levelized cost of electricity and reducing the compensation needed for each solar technology. These could take the form of risk guarantees, investment from public entities, governmental loans, soft loans or grants.
In the long run, Saudi Arabia aspires to be a global leader in CSP technology exports and to develop a smart grid to connect the country internally and to the MENA.
The country also plans to establish a region-based FiT scheme, and to reach a point at which solar would no longer require incentives. By 2030, the kingdom expects its CSP capacity of 25GW to account for 68% of the MENA’s CSP installations and 36% of worldwide CSP installations.
To respond to this article, please write to:
Heba Hashem: email@example.com
Or write to the Editor:
Rikki Stancich: firstname.lastname@example.org