| PARIS, April 11
PARIS, April 11 Saudi Arabia, which is planning
massive investment in renewable energy, hopes to export solar
electricity to Europe in winter, when cooler temperatures reduce
the need for air conditioning in the kingdom.
It would be viable for Saudi Arabia to export up to 10
gigawatts, the equivalent of 10 nuclear plants, via North Africa
and Italy or Spain, Khalid Al Sulaiman, vice president for
renewable energy at the King Abdullah City for Atomic and
Renewable Energy (KACARE) told a conference in Paris.
"It is not a project, it is a potential. It has to be
examined thoroughly by all," Sulaiman told Reuters.
He said solar energy capacity in Saudi Arabia is "almost
non-existent" at the moment, with only about 10 to 11 megawatts
of capacity installed in the entire country.
But the kingdom has huge ambitions to build renewable and
nuclear capacity as it tries to reduce domestic oil consumption.
The world's top oil exporter said in February it aims to
install 24 gigawatt of renewable power capacity by 2020 and 54
gigawatt by 2032, which would make Saudi Arabia one of the
world's main producers of renewable electricity.
Sulaiman said the first solar tenders will be offered this
A challenge for Saudi's electricity sector is that during
winter and parts of spring and fall, 45 percent of generation
capacity sits idle. Cooling accounts for more than 50 percent of
electricity demand in summer.
"We have thoroughly examined the potential for exporting
electricity from dormant capacity during the off season to
countries where peak demand coincides with our low demand
season," Sulaiman said.
He said studies show that the grid investment required to
bring Saudi electricity to Europe would amount to between 15 to
20 percent of the total investment required to install some 20
gigawatt renewable generation capacity.
"Our study demonstrates that trading with the EU is
economical, depending on the route chosen," he said. Export
capacity levels of 3, 5 and 10 gigawatt had been studied.
Transmission cables could go either via North Africa or via
Turkey and Bulgaria, but the latter route is less advantageous
because Bulgaria is a net exporter of electricity.
The Saudi electricity export plan is similar to the Desertec
initiative, which aims to bring power to Europe from North
Sulaiman said that, unlike Desertec, KACARE's plan would not
require a third party to install generation capacity since
KACARE would lead generation and connection investment.
He said he hoped European authorities would study the idea.
"If we could reduce the need to install generation capacity
by, say, 10 to 20 percent through the ability to trade
effectively, the savings would be tremendous," Sulaiman said.
He said the project would take five to 10 years to implement
but declined to give a cost estimate. Desertec has been
estimated to cost up to 400 billion euros ($512 billion).
Jerome Pecresse, president renewable energy at French
Alstom, which specialises in power grid equipment, said a Saudi
Arabia-Europe link was technically feasible, provided financing
Antoine Cahuzac, head of French utility EDF's renewable
energy unit, said public resistance to high-voltage lines will
be an obstacle to all long-distance grid projects.
Saudi Arabia has equally ambitious plans to build 17
gigawatt of nuclear power capacity by 2032, and French utility
EDF and reactor builder Areva hope to win a
slice of the market.
EDF CEO Henri Proglio told the conference Saudi personnel
are already in training in EDF facilities.
(Editing by Grant McCool)