x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Saudi Arabia looks past oil and pushes ahead with wind energy ambitions

The world’s top oil exporter moves forward wind project after choosing a new location

Saudi Arabia prepares its major wind project. Regis Duvignau / Reuters
Saudi Arabia prepares its major wind project. Regis Duvignau / Reuters

Saudi Arabia has resumed its efforts to launch the kingdom’s first large-scale wind farm, totalling 400 megawatts (MW), according to the country’s energy minister Khalid Al Falih. And there are plans for further tenders to kick off this year as part of a US$50 billion spending program on renewables within six years.

A request for qualifications for the wind project in the Al Jouf region in the north of the country was released on Sunday, marking the first step in a competitive bidding process.
The first round of Saudi Arabia's National Renewable Energy Programme (NREP) included plans for projects that would generate 700MW of solar and wind power. However, only 300MW of solar power projects have hit the deadlines as laid out by the country's Renewable Energy Project Development Office (Repdo).

Although the request for qualifications launch comes five months after the original target launch date of February 20, Mr Al Falih, insisted the kingdom’s renewable energy ambitions remain on target.

“As we enter the second half of the year, we remain committed to ensuring our ambitious programme remains on-track to deliver the value and opportunities targeted by the programme,” said Mr Al Falih.

After companies have been vetted to meet minimum standards, a request for proposals will be issued, currently slated for the end of August. Mr Al Falih said the timeline “ensures that we remain on course to tender 700MW in round one this year”.

The kingdom, plans to spend up to $50 billion to help meet its target of producing enough electricity from renewables to power the equivalent of 3 million homes within six years, Mr Al  Falih had said in January.

The original site for the wind project was slated to be at Midyan in the north-western Tabuk province. Turki Al Shehri, head of Repdo, told The National in a phone interview that the Midyan project is still scheduled to be tendered at a future date after first completing further studies.

“Midyan is still in pre-development, but hopefully we will tender it fairly soon,” he said. “We didn’t want to postpone it too long, so we replaced (it) with the project in Al Jouf.”

Mr Al Shehri said the 24 companies that had been shortlisted for the Midyan wind project in April are being carried over into the new location, with the opportunity for new companies to join the race.

He said the ministry had seen a great deal of interest for its renewables programme, totalling around 600 expressions of interests from 48 countries. “There was a fairly large amount of companies that participated, but there were others that didn’t get the news,” Mr Al Shehri said.

The new Al Jouf location is in the same area as the 300MW solar project that is expected to be awarded in September. However, Mr Al Shehri said the projects were entirely separate, feeding power into two different substations.

Saudi Arabia, long known for its reliance on its oil and gas sector, began its shift towards economic diversification last year with its Vision 2030 plan. Among several bold initiatives for the reorganisation of the country's economy, the plan marked the first time that the country had set out government targets for renewable energy.
In line with the vision and interim targets of Vision 2030, the kingdom is targeting the addition of 3.45 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy to the national grid in just three years, scaling up to 9.5GW by 2023.

The Al Jouf wind project will be awarded in January, but there are more project tenders expected to come out this year.

“We aren’t done yet, you’ll see more projects this year,” Mr Al Shehri said.