Solar in Saudi Arabia

With news that Saudi Arabia is planning to build solar plants capable of providing enough electricity to supply the Middle East perhaps it is worth looking back at a project first mooted back in the 1980s

'It costs little more than $3000 to activate a bpd of oil in Saudi Arabia. In the Gulf of Mexico, oil companies are spending up to $10,000 activating a bpd. In New Jersey a small-scale solar energy plant used by Atlantic County to power a waste water plant cost $3.25m and provides the equivalent of 1.03 bpd of oil – an activation cost of $3.16m per bpd. Even if the price of silicon crystal solar cells had fallen to the levels predicted in the 1980s ($15/m² including supporting infrastructure) the hydrogen equivalent of a bpd of oil would cost $31,500 to activate (assuming that a solar plant would have a useful life twice as long as the typical oilfield and that 4200m² of solar cells would generate the hydrogen equivalent of 1 bpd of oil).

'To achieve an activation cost of $10,000 a solar cell would have to cost no more than $3/m² or, at spec sheet efficiency of 15%, $0.02/watt. This is several orders of magnitude less than the current price of $4/watt (for the cell alone).

'If, however, we look beyond activation costs, the picture looks slightly different. If solar cell arrays could be manufactured for $15/m² (or $0.09/watt) the cells required to generate 1 bpd would require an investment of $63,000. We shall assume the equipment required to convert electrical power into hydrogen from the array would cost $38,000 (in reality this equipment would convert power from a number of arrays).'

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