The famously oil-rich nation of Saudi Arabia has announced the first stage of a staggering $109 billion investment in solar energy. Confirming reports earlier this year that the state plans to transition entirely to renewable energy sources in the coming decades, the Guardian reports that a Vice President at the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy declared to the state-run Saudi Press Agency that work is set to begin early next year on a large-scale solar farm.
The announcement comes as the UN’s climate talks in the Quatari city of Doha kick off, and, as the Guardian observes, places Saudi Arabia in line with plans for renewable energy investments by other Middle Eastern nations, including Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai. While Khalid al-Suliman of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy appears certain about the future of the solar farm, Clean Technica reports that he did stipulate that “the project will get underway once the government approves his agency’s plan for renewable energy.” — which al-Suliman expects to happen early in 2013.
If plans proceed, the farm will provide a substantial start to Saudi Arabia’s earlier stated aim to produce 41,000MW of solar energy to the national grid by 2032. This contribution would amount to 1/3 of the nation’s energy. In addition to the massive uptick in solar energy production, Saudi Arabia plans to start work on its first nuclear power plant, one of 16 that the nation hopes to construct and have online by 2030.
Saudi Arabia has already made significant strides in solar energy production. Earlier this year they opened the world’s largest solar geothermal plant in Riyadh at a cost of $14 million. Prior to this, the Kingdom began work on a 500KW solar power plant in Kingdom Desert. Additionally, Morocco has recently signed a deal with Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power International to develop North Africa’s first solar-thermal plant to begin operation in the second half of 2015.
It’s widely observed that while the environmental benefits of a transition to renewable energy sources are certainly significant, the move presents a huge economic benefit for Saudi Arabia. With the potential to produce 100% of their energy from renewable sources, the Kingdom will be able to export all of their currently significant oil reserves.