Saudi Arabia to Replace Oil with Sun Power for Desalination Plants

Feb 1st, 2010 | By John Waller | Category: Solar Thermal
Predicting peak oil? Saudi water desalination plants like this one to be powered by the sun

Predicting peak oil? Saudi water desalination plants like this one to be powered by the sun

You would imagine that a desert country like Saudi Arabia would have to rely a lot on desalination for a good part of the fresh water it uses. For example, a previous Green Prophet article told about the Kingdom building what they say is the world’s largest desalination plant  in the Al Jubail Industrial Zone on the shores of the Persian Gulf.

Up to now, the more than 28 desalination plants scattered around the Kingdom have had to rely of fossil fuel, most notably fuel oil, to provide to power to run the equipment used to extract salt and other minerals from sea water.

Much of this may be changing, however, as Saudi Arabia is now interested in using solar energy to provide the power needed, instead of oil. According to an article on the UAE Top News media site, the Kingdom is now planning to build solar energy based desalination plants in order to save on energy costs, as well as be in tune with new environmental polices. This might be to secure membership in the International Renewable Energy Agency, otherwise known as IRENA. 

Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim Al Assaf said “desalination is our strategic choice to supply an adequate supply of drinking water to people across the Kingdom.”

He added that by using solar energy instead of oil, it will focus more on using renewable energy and even become an exporter of this clean form of energy as it has been doing with oil. A tremendous amount of oil is currently being used to provide power for the country’s desalination plants; around 1.5 million barrels per day. This has caused the price of desalinated water to rise as oil prices have risen.

The use of solar energy to power desalination plants is just one of several projects in  the Kingdom that are more environmentally friendly. The Kingdom is also embarking of projects to improve its inland transport systems including building a high speed train network to carry pilgrims to and from the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina.

The new rail network, when completed, will be able to large numbers of people, and help to eliminate many of the thousands of buses which are currently used.

In addition to desalination, solar energy will also be supplying energy to a country which has been historically known as being a world supplier of oil, especially to countries like the US. Solar energy will eventually enable to Saudis to not only have a renewable energy source to supply their own energy needs but will significantly reduce the cost of fresh water, as well as being able to export renewable energy, as well as oil.

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