The world’s largest solar thermal plant recently opened in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The new plant is almost double the size of what was previously the largest solar thermal facility (located in Denmark), and it will generate enough power to heat water for a university of 40,000 students. GREENTecONE, an Austrian solar design company, supplied the solar panels for the project.
The 388,000 square foot (36,000 square meter) rooftop system is the size of five soccer fields and was built at a cost of $14 million. The solar technology is just one of the many features that will make the new $11.5 billion Princess Noura Bint Abdulrahman University for Women in Riyadh a showcase for environmental innovation. The project is also a signal that countries in the Middle East, which have become wealthy thanks to fossil fuels, are now planning for post-oil future.
Plentiful sun shines down on Saudi Arabia, and the solar panels that allow this project to run are massive. Each one covers 107 square feet (10 square meters) and weighs 375 pounds (170 kilos). The panels have a transparent coating to enhance their performance, and they also require a special mounting system to keep them bolted to the roofs when Saudi Arabia’s notoriously vicious sandstorms hit Riyadh.
Watch for similar projects to appear in Saudi Arabia the coming decade. The Kingdom has set a goal for 10 percent of its energy to come from solar power by 2020. Currently oil is plentiful, and over half of Saudi Arabia’s electricity comes from the country’s black gold. But with oil pricing at over $100 a barrel, it makes economic sense for Saudi Arabia to reduce their dependency at home and export more of it abroad. With the country expected to grow even more in the coming years, Saudi Arabia could become a global leader in solar power generation.