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Solar energy initiative launched

The King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology (KACST) on Sunday launched a major national initiative to produce desalinated water and electricity at a much cheaper rate – less than a riyal for a cubic meter of water and 30 halalas per kilowatt/hour.

Prince Turki bin Saud bin Muhammad, vice president of KACST for research institutes, said the initiative would reduce the cost of water and electricity production by 40 percent. He said the first solar-powered desalination plant with a capacity of 30,000 cubic meters would be established in Al-Khafji to serve 100,000 people.

The project will reduce dependence on oil and gas to operate desalination plants. At present desalination plants on the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf consume a total of 1.5 million barrels per day. The new nanotechnology for using solar energy to operate desalination plants was developed by KACST in association with IBM.

“Desalination is our strategic choice to supply adequate amount of drinking water to people across the Kingdom,” said Finance Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf, while addressing the launching ceremony. Saudi Arabia supplies more than 18 percent of the world’s total desalinated water, he said.

“We want to make the Kingdom a major source of solar energy in the world,” Al-Assaf said. His comment goes in line with a recent statement made by Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Ali Al-Naimi, who said the Kingdom aims to make solar energy a major contributor to power supply in the next 5-10 years.

“Saudi Arabia aspires to export as much solar energy in the future as it exports oil now,” Al-Naimi said.

The oil minister also pointed out that King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, near Jeddah, would use its research facilities to develop solar energy to meet a significant portion of the Kingdom’s growing power needs. Electricity demand in the Kingdom is growing at the rate of seven percent annually.

The new initiative was carried out by the ministries of finance, water and electricity, and commerce and industry, and the Saline Water Conversion Corporation. There are lots of scope for Saudi Arabia to use solar energy because of the availability of strong sunlight throughout the year, estimated at 2,000 kilowatt for each square meter.

In the second phase of the project, a desalination plant with a capacity of 300,000 cubic meters of water daily will be established, said Muhammad Al-Suwaiyel, president of KACST. “We’ll set up more solar-energy-powered desalination plants in different parts of the Kingdom in the third phase,” he added.