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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