The Saudi Arabia of Solar Power

Turns out it actually is Saudi Arabia:

Saudi Arabia positioned to become solar power

Sitting in the center of the so-called Sun Belt, the country is part of a vast, rainless region reaching from the western edge of North Africa to the eastern edge of Central Asia that boasts the best solar energy resources on Earth. With the cost of oil skyrocketing, this belt is attracting the attention of a growing number of European leaders, who are embracing an ambitious proposal to harvest this solar energy for their nations.

The irony is inescapable and the story a familiar one, as the developed world again turns to the less developed countries in hopes of powering their economies. More important, it highlights an unappreciated implication of a solar-powered economy: The end of the oil age will not necessarily bring an end to the ugly geopolitics, resource wars and national rivalries that oil created.

How much potential? A lot:

In Hassi R’mel, Algeria, construction has begun on a new power plant using a combination of solar and natural gas. The hope is to generate 150 megawatts of electricity by 2010, with 25 megawatts from a solar array stretching nearly 2 million square feet. The long-term goal is to export more than 6,000 megawatts of solar-generated power to Europe by 2020.

Our potential in thermal solar power is four times the world’s energy consumption, so you can have all the ambitions you want with that,” Tewfik Hasni, managing director of New Energy Algeria, or NEAL, a company created by the Algerian government in 2002 to develop renewable energy, told the Associated Press last year.

This is why, barring a major technological breakthrough, the economics of solar energy may someday look much like the economics of fossil fuels. Energy security ultimately means more than access to energy; it means access to cheap energy. And like it or not, the Sun Belt has the cheapest solar energy in the world in vast quantities.

In other solar news, solar panel theft is on the rise:

Solar panels are hot for the stealing

East Bay law enforcement has been seeing a number of solar panel thefts. One industry expert said it was an uncommon crime, but there was a brief spree of thefts six weeks ago throughout the Bay Area.

“The solar panel thing is pretty new,” said Contra Costa County Sherriff’s Office spokesman Jimmy Lee of the thefts. “We’re seeing an increasing number of cases.”

“It’s simple mathematics,” Lee said of the thefts. “There’s money to be made.”

Next thing you know, wind turbines will be disappearing as thieves sell them for scrap. :^0

21 thoughts on “The Saudi Arabia of Solar Power”

  1. 6000 megawatts is a lot.
    Maybe KSA sees the handwriting on the wall?
    The GM Volt is the first of a ever-growing wave of vehicles that can turns their nose-hoods up to the gasoline pump?
    What if the majority of vehicles in 20 years are EVs? Say three out of four. Who do you sell oil to then? And this looks like a likelihood, not a possibility.
    Nisson is developing an EV with 200 miles range, and rapid recharge at 220v.
    Yeah, if I were KSA would start to build solar power plants too.

  2. I do have to admit,
    Europe is kinda screwed when it comes to solar power.

    Luckily, the real big carbon emitters are countries with lots of sunlight.


    Big surprise, an 80% solution isn’t perfect.

  3. How in the world do you get 6GW of power to Europe from Saudi? Wouldn’t it be more practical to use the power locally for energy-intensive industries such as aluminum smelting and electrical steel production?

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  5. OT but big drops in oil prices…Brent down to $107….
    Gustav? Who cares.
    The oil bull is dead-o-dead-o.
    At TOD the hysteria is whipped into rare form (not since Hurricane Gonu have we seen such fear-mongering) but oil down, down, down.
    You suppose people are figuring out that EVs could mean crude demand goes down every year, and not up?

  6. From a US perspective I couldn’t care less how much sun Saudi Arabia gets. We have 100x more solar resource than we need, not to mention an abundance of world-class wind. If Saudi Arabia wants to buy solar equipment and try to export power, bully for them.

    Europe is a different story. That’s why you see these wacky plans to run 3000 mile powerlines from Africa and such. This basically puts them back in the same boat as importing oil from the mideast and natgas from Russia.

  7. Doggydog-
    I am surprised that Europe is interested in solar, given they have wind and geothermal, and, of course, France has already nuked up (80 percent of their power) and adding two more plants as we speak.
    Nukes, wind, geothermal, EVs.
    Given their progressive governments, I predict Europe will be five to 10 years ahead of us in creating post-fossil economies, and will enjoy even higher living standards as a result.
    And the Germans and French already live very well.
    We ghave lots of solar, but no that I see how much land solar eats up, I wonder if nukes are not better.

  8. Why is it that solar power for residential use has not increased in the US. We keep building homes, with little thought given to using solar panels to power basic things such as air conditioners and even pool equipment.

  9. I’m kinda confused by Benny’s claim that it’s EVs that have got oil prices down. The prices that are down to the quoted $107 are short term contracts, so even if there’s an EV utopia (say) five years from mass adoption why would that have more than a miniscule effect (nth order effect) on short term prices? I’d be inclined to the view that recent news of slowdowns in the “physical” sectors of the US, UK and other places would have a much bigger effect. Is there any discernable evidence (say, a quote from someone who trades in oil) that it’s expectations for PV cars that have had an effect on the quoted oil prices?

  10. Benny – Have you ever lived in Europe? I lived in Germany for two years. It is certainly no paradise and that comes from someone who really enjoyed the time I spent there.

    The only thing the Europeans will be and are ahead of us on is nuclear power. They have a high demand for electricity and renewables just isn’t enough. Even Germany is rethinking its position on no nukes.

    anon 12:17 – Solar power is just plain expensive. People tend to forget that, unless you’re connected to the grid, you need to have batteries to store the power for night usage. So in addition to cost of the panels themselves, there is the cost of batteries, the cost of inverters, and the cost of labor to have it installed. We still enjoy cheap power in the US.

  11. “Why is it that solar power for residential use has not increased in the US”

    From my limited experience, it’s because solar is still too expensive for the average homeowner. I know two people who have just installed home solar systems. I believe both were in the $18K range in cost, and both guys estimated something around a 12 year payback (not my numbers). Saving money was not the primary motivation for either….. but I think it’s going to have to be the primary motivation if we’re ever going to have widespread residential solar installations.

    It seems hard for me to believe that a nation could lead the solar market based on climate alone, simply because there are so many places in the world with similar climates. Seems to me that an eventual market leader will also need to be a leader in the technology. Otherwise, if the Saudi’s charge too much (we have to assume at this point that storage/transportation problems have been licked), Acme Solar could just make a deal in Nevada, Algeria, Kazakhstan, or Australia.

  12. Anon-Midtowner–
    I mention EVs as today’s oil market is a speculative market. The vast bulk of traders are speculators. The spec price is a the market price.
    Emotions and “the story” drive the market. Until recently, the story was Peak Oil and increasing demand. Speculators could drive the price up, against a backdrop of inelastic demand. Certainly supplies would adequate. This went on for years.
    Eventually, at $147 a barrel, we hit the wall, and it became obvious we could not go to $200. Demand destruction was immediate. Even maintaining $147 was impossible. Demand was waning.
    We found out that although demand for oil is inelastic in the short-run, it is somewhat elastic in the medum-term, and very elastic in the long run. As in EVs, CTL, and biofuels (seven mbd by 2015, and palm grove productivity rising rapidly).
    Now, the story is shifting — don’t be surprised if it goes to far, and we have “oil glut” stories in one to two years.
    we could see commodity fund suffer outflows, leading to more positions unwinding, meaning oil really dumps.
    But, I must say, the commercial emergence of EVs has really shifted the ground. The doomer scenarios just do not make sense when Nissan is planning to bring to market a 200-mile EV with rapid recharge. And when oil demand is falling, not going up…..we are seeing more “Peak Demand’ stories.
    So, the tone, the emotion, has shifted. The spec money is looking for The Next Big Thing. I wish I knew what it was. Maybe, depressed real estate.
    As to whether Germany and France “have it better” than the USA, I suppose it is a matter of opinion and taste.
    Still, six weeks off a year (unless it is eight), safe streets, better mass transit, good schools and central governments dedicated to moving away from fossil fuels — I would say France and Germany have eclipsed the USA as a place to live and raise a family, certainly for the middle-class.
    Is there a major city in the U.S. you would send your wife to walk across at night, or send your kids to average public schools?
    Do you think our national energy policy (if we have one) in any way is as advanced as that of Germany’s or France’s?
    Do you like working for two weeks off a year (one week of which you must visit your mother, or your wife’s mother, or even both, thus taking both weeks)?

  13. Anonymous 12:17 doesn't think that residential solar is increasing in the US, but I keep seeing news about new solar communities being built by some of the biggest names in US home building, Lennar, Centex, D.R. Horton, KB Homes, mostly in California, but also Florida and Washington.

    Apparently shipments of photovoltaic modules for the residential sector in the US increased by 27% from 2005 to 2006. Not as impressive as the 100% increase in the commercial sector, but not too shabby a growth rate.

    But I agree with Midtowner too on the cost of PV vs cheap electricity in the US.

  14. Hate to bring this up again — as it seems no one wants to talk about it — but if there is little rain in SA, it means the accumulation of dust on the panels will rarely be washed off. And the sand in the Middle East is much finer than what Americans think of as "sand." It becomes airborne very easily and gets into and on everything. So maintenance will be a serious problem. It appears that little research has been done on the effects of dust on PV, but here's one example.

    Also not mentioned in the article is the matter of transmission loss, which would be considerable when sending power from SA to Europe. Unless they build high-tension lines of superconductors, a considerable percentage of the power will never make it to Europe.

  15. Benny writes “We found out that although demand for oil is inelastic in the short-run, it is somewhat elastic in the medum-term, and very elastic in the long run.”

    You seem to be persistently rejecting that the global economic context matters. I’d say that if western world consumers were happy that their access to money (whether “real” money or crazily advanced credit) was going to continue at the same levels then demand for oil at 130-odd dollars would remain pretty inelastic (although there’d be bitching). In the current climate where most people are worried about job security/falling RE/failing banks demand for 130 dollar oil is much more elastic because “money” people thought they could afford to spend on gas they decide they don’t want to, even if it means what they’d consider hardship.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a surplus of “production capacity” in oil in a couple of years, not because we’re all driving pimped up EVs but because the oil producers have put a floor under oil (say 70 dollars) and we can’t afford to buy all their capacity until we figure a way to manufacture (by fair means or foul) more “money” to buy it with. I don’t think many people who aren’t hardcore car nuts are even thinking much about EVs this month, so I doubt they’re managing to affect sentiment. On the other hand, almost everyone is talking almost all the time about the “credit crunch”.

  16. Rice Farmer, you don’t need superconductors. Long HVDC lines (e.g. a couple thousand miles) incur losses of 4-6%. Add 1.5% at each end for conversion and you’re still below 10% total loss.

    Benny, EVs have almost zero impact on oil markets. The Chevy Volt is no more real today than a few months ago when oil hit $147. What has changed since 147 is a small but clear and sustained US demand response, due in part to economic slump and in part to reduced VMT. Data has also started to indicate slowing growth in China, notably in car sales. That plus normal retracement has driven oil down from the peak. At this piont EVs have no more than a marginal affect on trader psychology.

    Getting back to Europe, their wind resource is poor and geothermal cannot scale except in certain areas (e.g. Iceland) or with unproven approaches. Nuclear is really Europe’s only option, but the politics remain dicey. Phaseout laws are common in western Europe (except France). Of course they won’t actually execute these phaseouts, but there is a huge difference between “let’s postpone the phaseout a few years” and “let’s start building new reactors.”

  17. Doggydog-
    Of course, the GM Volt is not immediately reducing oil consumption — but oil prices are a speculative market. The CFTC now says more than 80 percent of trading is by speculators. Emotions play a huge role.
    Sheesh, Gustav passes w/o major damage, and oil plummets to under $110. Futures prices years out tumble down too.
    Oddly enough, a damaged oil infrastructure would have meant less, not more, crude oil demand (downed refineries cannot process oil). That doesn’t matter. It is an emotional, speculative market.
    The emotions have shifted. The media attention to EVs, the announcements of a Nissan car that will go 200 miles on a rapid recharge, are changing the dynamic. Speculators are realizing that at more than $100 a barrel, EVs make sense. Demand could start going down, and for decades in a row.
    The real current drop in demand is playing a role too, but I have given up on reality playing much of a role in oil prices. Perception is all — until prices get so high that immediate demand destruction happens. We reached that at $145. The long-term demand destruction in ongoing, and accumulating.
    What is interesting is this: Do the commodity and hedge funds start unwinding positions, as they could be losing lots of money now?
    That could lead to a price collapse.
    If you want a laugh, go to The Oil Drum. They are still wallowing in Hurricane Gustav, even as oil prices dump, dump, dump.
    Remember Hurricane Gonu!

  18. “Still, six weeks off a year (unless it is eight), safe streets, better mass transit, good schools ,,,”

    Benny — back in this universe, things in EUtopia are not quite that great. Check out knifings in London, for example. Or car burnings in Paris. Read some of the UK papers for an update on the real situation in those “good schools”.

    As someone once said — we are entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts.

  19. Kinu-
    We had more than 1,000 murders in LA County in 2007 (much improved, by the way, from the early 1990s, when a policeman said, “Murder is a hobby in Los Angeles.”)
    Hey, I never said Europe was perfect. But come to L.A., my hometown and favorite city. Nevertheless, when I grew up in the 1950s, it was a first-world city. Now, we are part of the Third World.
    I sent my son to Thailand to get an education.
    That is a fact.

  20. Nearly a 10% transmission loss? That’s significant if you ask me. And subtract another 10% or more for the dust. I assume they would cover hundreds of acres with PV panels. If they want to enjoy the full potential of their sunshine, they’ll need to have people going through the installation constantly with mops or brooms to keep the panels reasonably free of dust.

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