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Big Solar Touches Down in Saudi Arabia

Solar power tends to be big because it covers a large amount of area with its panels. The world’s largest solar thermal power plant (by physical size) is nearly double the size of the original largest in Denmark — is now online in Saudi Arabia, reinforcing the notion that this Saudi Arabia has a lot of oil and a lot of sunlight. As long as the sun shines this sort of power is virtually limitless. Plentiful sun shines down on Saudi Arabia, and the 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. Solar thermal power is a technology for harnessing solar energy for thermal (heat) purposes.

The world’s largest thermal plant has gone into full operation at the Princess Noura Bint Abdul Rahman University near Riyadh after a six month trial period and build-up.

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 vast oil supply. 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.

Millennium Energy, which was responsible for the design and build of the solar thermal plant, subcontracted Greenonetec, an Austrian manufacturer, to supply the GK 3000 series solar collectors, and received solar thermal application expertise from the Austrian company AEE Intec.

These panels have a 95% absorption rate and weigh 170kg. They are 10 square meters wide by 5 square meters long and are especially designed to withstand the desert’s fierce sandstorms.

Other energy saving technology incorporated into the university’s design will result in annual carbon savings of 125 million kilograms, making this by far the most sustainable campus in all of Saudi.

The rooftop system covers a total area of 36,305m² compared to the former largest solar thermal power plant in Denmark, which covers an area of 19,875 m².

Article by Andy Soos, appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.

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One comment on “Big Solar Touches Down in Saudi Arabia

Just a small correction: These heating plants do not produce power (i.e. electricity), and hence they are not solar thermal power plants but just solar thermal plants… or solar heating plants. Solar thermal power is sometimes used as an alternative name for concentrations solar power (CSP).

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