Saudi Arabia 200 GW Solar Project

Good news for a change. Saudi Arabia and Japan’s Masayoshi Son plan to install 200 GW of solar power in the country until 2030. They have signed a Memorandum of Understanding last week.

Masayoshi Son is of course the person behind the “Asia Super Grid” initiative, which aims to connect Asian countries with power lines and eventually deliver electricity from the Mongolian Gobi desert to Japan.

That is a long-term project, just like the new Saudi Arabia announcement. It will take some time to build the power lines and Gobi desert renewable energy projects. And just like the Saudi Arabia project it is really large scale, enough to move the needle on global warming. It also may help to keep peace if countries work together on common energy infrastructure.

Saudi Arabia and Japan have a long history of working together on energy. That is, Japan is buying oil from that country.

In contrast, even if the 200 GW project is finished, it will be not so easy to ship some of that energy to Japan. Building a “World Super Grid” with connections from Saudi Arabia to Japan will take even more time than building the “Asia Super Grid”.

Fortunately, there are solutions for this problem.

One is to just convert some of the power to gas. This can use existing infrastructure for storing and shipping gas. It will be necessary anyway for Saudi Arabia’s domestic storage needs. Obviously they want to keep their grid running also at night. Batteries might help, but at large scale power to gas is the better solution. Once you have converted electrical power to gas, you can ship it to Japan quite easily with existing technology and infrastructure.

And I have blogged about other ideas, like using quicklime or making silicon or aluminum at the desert site. The most interesting idea would be to use the excess energy to suck up CO2 from the atmosphere (with funding provided by a surcharge to Saudi Arabia oil exports covering the cost of removing exactly the CO2 released by burning the oil in question).

The scale of this project looks big. On the other hand, 200 GW until 2030 is less than 20 GW a year. China installed 52.83 GW already last year, and prices will go down much more in the next decade.

For Saudi Arabia, there is an obvious benefit of selling solar energy to the world compared to selling oil. The solar energy is not going to run out any time soon. There are no perpetual oil fields, but solar you build once and use forever.