With the launch in December of its online Renewable Resource Atlas, Saudi Arabia has taken an important step into bringing its ambitious renewable energy plans closer to realisation. The Atlas will provide developers of solar power (and later also wind power, geothermal heat and waste-to-energy) comprehensive, reliable data on which to base project bids. Heba Hashem of CSP Today reports.
Saudi Arabia’s highly anticipated Renewable Resource Atlas was launched in December, witnessing a larger-than-expected international attendance. It was attended by hundreds of policy makers, utility companies, academic entities and industry players in the presence of Saudi Minister of Water and Electricity H.E. Abdullah Al-Hussayen; President of King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (K.A.CARE) H.E. Dr. Hashim Yamani; and President of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) H.E. Dr. Mohammed Al-Suwaiyel.
Companies represented included ACWA Power, Abengoa, Enel Green Power, Siemens, ABB, AREVA Solar, Alstom, International Solar Energy Society, CH2MHILL, Bechtel as well as the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Masdar and Deutsche Bank.
Over the past years, companies with interest in the Saudi solar market had to rely on data gathered mainly through satellite observations rather than on-the-ground stations. In response to this gap, K.A.CARE (King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy) worked on putting together a comprehensive and accurate renewable resource dataset characterizing the country’s solar radiation and spectrum, wind speeds, humidity, as well as dust and atmospheric conditions. The results of Saudi Arabia’s Renewable Resource and Environmental Measurement and Monitoring (RRMM) project are now available through the Renewable Resource Atlas portal (http://rratlas.kacare.gov.sa).
In addition to the live solar data, the Atlas incorporates dedicated maps for Saudi Arabia’s electrical grid, roads, environmentally protected areas, population densities, elevations and slopes. Although solar resource data collected at the annual, monthly and daily average levels will be accessible by the public, time-series data from hourly down to 1-minute level data will be offered in accordance with Data Sharing Guidelines.
“The K.A.CARE Renewable Resource Atlas is an important step in the development stages for the Saudi Arabia solar industry. This resource will be one of the first government-issued reference tools for the implementation of solar projects,” said Browning Rockwell, founder of Saudi Arabia Solar Industry Association.
“While many other components are necessary for solar project development, this is an important link in the development chain. This reference tool will be of equal value to CSP [concentrated solar power] and PV [photovoltaic power] developers,” he added.
The Atlas will help developers evaluate project sites in the kingdom to determine the best locations, plan operations and maintenance, and even plan outages. For financiers, having accurate data will enable them to make sound financial decisions, as suggested by Deutsche Bank, while for technology developers, the data will help them develop the right technology for the country.
According to Dr Hosni Ghedira, Director at Masdar’s Institute’s Research Centre for Renewable Energy Mapping and Assessment, one of the main challenges facing developers during the planning and design of solar plants in the region, is the lack of reliable long-term data. “Most of the existing models applied in the region typically overestimate solar irradiance, particularly DNI – a key resource for CSP technology. Inaccurate estimation of resource availability may have serious implications on a project’s profitability and economic sustainability”.
“One of the reasons that can be attributed to low accuracy of prediction is the models’ inability to sufficiently account for attenuation of solar irradiance by the frequently predominant airborne dust,” Ghedira said.
In just one year, King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (K.A.CARE) successfully installed 43 solar resource monitoring stations nationwide. But there are more to come, as the overall target is 150 stations, of which 74 stations will be deployed by March 2014.
The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and its partner Battelle supported K.A.CARE with the distribution of the monitoring stations, helping officials decide where to place the stations. They also helped with the site selection, installation and training of local engineers.
K.A.CARE notes that the integration of the solar monitoring network data with satellite-based models will follow the network’s deployment – possibly being available in 2014 – and data from each newly installed station will be released about one month after its operation.
“It’s going to take time for this Atlas to evolve, it’s not going to be a static piece of work, so as it evolves and grows and the data become richer, it will contribute towards the bankability of projects in the country,” said Reda El Chaar, managing director of Dubai-based Access Advisory.
The renewable resource atlas will not only include solar resources data, but also will incorporate wind, geothermal heat and waste-to-energy datasets when the entire network is complete.
Saudi Arabia’s solar ambitions
Saudi Arabia plans to have 41 GW of solar power capacity installed by 2032, including 25 GW of CSP and 16 GW of PV. Currently no country has this amount of solar power (Germany leads the world with over 32 GW), although installations are growing so fast in the US and China that these countries could reach the 50 GW mark already in 2016.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s ambitious plans have not yet been translated into on-the-ground results. hard numbers are hard to come by. Apparently, Saudi Arabia had just 12 MW of solar power installed in 2013, according to information from REN21. According to an article by Alison Ebbage on CSP Today, an introductory procurement round was supposed to have gone ahead in the first quarter of 2013, consisting of 900 MW of CSP and 1.1 GW of PV, followed by a second round in the third or fourth quarter of 2014 with up to 7 GW of capacity being tendered. However, the tendering process has not started yet and, as Ebbage notes, “no one seems to know know when the tendering process will begin.”
Nevertheless, Reda el Chaar, managing director at Access Advisory, comments that “there has been some confusion over timing but we think that the government will, eventually, move very quickly. Thus it is essential to be in this for the long term and to be able to have a robust and workable proposition that we can put into action quickly once the tendering process does begin.”
El Chaar notes that one key component of the solar energy programme is the desire to have at least four hours of storage built into any proposition. The expectation is that K.A. CARE will lean towards projects that have the most storage capacity and be able to provide energy after dusk and at peak times for its domestic marketplace.
This article was first published on CSP Today and is republished here in adapted form with permission from the author.