Saudis consider power exports

Saudi Arabia is contemplating building a long-distance network to export electricity to Europe in the winter, when as much as half of the kingdom's electricity capacity remains idle.

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Saudi Arabia is considering exporting surplus electricity to Europe in the winter months, when some power capacity lies idle.

The kingdom is conducting a feasibility study on a high-voltage line to connect to the European grid in the next decade, the deputy electricity minister said at a conference in Abu Dhabi yesterday.

"We need to identify the requirements for technical as well as the legal and political environments," said Dr Saleh Alawaji, the deputy minister for electricity and chairman of the state electricity utility.

"It will not be so easy to move all this long distance without challenges and obstacles."

Saudi electricity exports could be enormous, with the difference between peak load in the summer and winter already at 24 gigawatts, about half of the total capacity, according to the ministry of water and electricity.

Although the transmission line being contemplated would carry electricity generated by burning oil and natural gas, it could be a model for a separate renewable-energy network connecting the Mena region with Europe.

That would mean a welcome boost for Desertec, a German-led initiative to connect North African solar power producers to European consumers that has been idled in the planning stages.

"The Europeans have a connection to all over the continent there, so if you have some points where you can inject that energy into that grid, it will work," said Dietmar Siersdorfer, the regional chief executive for Germany's Siemens Energy, a member of Desertec.

"You have a lot of power in your country. "You're using it only in the summer for two or three months. Why don't you export it in the winter to Europe when there is a demand?"

The proposal comes as Saudi Arabia seeks foreign investment to help build its power capacity.

Between 300 billion riyals (Dh293.81bn) and 400bn riyals must be spent on power plants in the coming decade to meet demand, which grows at about 10 per cent annually, Dr Alawaji said. He added that between 100bn riyals and 200bn riyals should come from investors.

Power plants valued at 80bn riyals are already planned, with the aim of adding 12gw to the present capacity of 50gw.

The Saudi government is expected to announce next week a tariff for solar power in a move calculated to attract experienced producers of renewable energy.