Saudi Arabia adds first solar power plant to grid

The 300MW photovoltaic plant is part of an ambitious strategy to add 27.3GW to grid by 2024

Saudi Arabia's  first solar project, a 300MW scheme at Sakaka will reach full commercial operation by year-end. AFP
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Saudi Arabia connected its first solar power project to the grid as it looks to expand its renewable energy programme to free up more crude for export markets.

Acwa Power, the developer of the kingdom's 300 megawatt Sakaka solar photovoltaic power project in the northern Al Jouf region, expects to start full commercial operation by year-end.

The solar plant, built at a cost of 1.2 billion Saudi riyals (Dh1.17bn) is currently producing power in a pilot phase.

"We are confident to deliver the project on schedule and commercial operation of the plant before the end of this year," said Acwa Power chairman Mohammad Abunayyan.

Saudi Arabia has been moving away from burning crude oil to generate power, switching first to gas-fired plants and subsequently moving towards wind and solar schemes as it seeks to free up its crude for the export market. The kingdom recently revised its renewable energy target to be achieved by 2024 to 27.3GW, from 9.5GW previously.

Around 70 per cent of renewable schemes in the kingdom will be backed by the sovereign investment vehicle, the Public Investment Fund, while the remainder will be awarded through the Renewable Energy Project Development Office within the Saudi energy ministry.

Saudi Arabia is also set to become the Middle East's biggest wind power market in the next decade. The kingdom will account for almost half of the region's wind capacity additions by 2028.

Developers will build 6.2GW of wind capacity – or 46 per cent of the region’s total wind capacity addition – between 2019 and 2028, according to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.

The kingdom's first wind power project, costing $500m, reached financial close in July. The 400MW wind farm is being executed by a consortium led by France's EDF and Abu Dhabi's Masdar.

Acwa Power will also reach financial close on an $11.5bn gasification project being developed with Saudi Aramco and Air Products by the close of the year, its chief executive Paddy Padmanathan told The National in an interview last month.