LeAnne Graves: Saudi natural gas demand a welcome boost for renewables
News of Saudi Arabia’s ambitions to increase its natural gas production by nearly 50 per cent had some questioning whether the country’s renewable energy plans would be sidelined.
But what many don’t realise is that natural gas and renewable energy, such as solar, go together like salt and pepper.
As more details emerged this week about the new diversification strategy, Saudi Arabia said it would target a natural gas production increase, by 2020, to 17.8 billion standard cubic feet per day (Bcfd) from its current 12 Bcfd.
This is not a wholly new strategy, as the International Energy Agency said two years ago that the country was looking to increase its natural gas production to 15 Bcfd by 2018.
Another important point is that the country has never exported natural gas, rather using it to generate electricity.
Gas makes up about 43 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s power generation sector, with fuel oil and diesel making up the remainder.
Recently, however, more crude oil is being used to generate power for the growing demand.
The Energy Information Administration said the country’s electricity consumption was 232 billion kilowatt hours in 2012. That is expected to grow threefold by 2030.
That’s where the complementary relationship between natural gas and renewables comes into play.
Gas is ideal for base load, or the minimum level of demand on a power system.
It also helps to fill the renewables gap, such as at night when solar power cannot be generated or even when wind isn’t blowing.
“More gas in the short to medium term is absolutely the right way forward as the country starts a renewables programme,” said Paddy Padmanathan, the chief executive of Acwa Power, the Riyadh-based power generation company.
Saudi Arabia is pushing to capture 9.5 gigawatts (GW) of renewable capacity by 2023, and while it is uncertain as to which solar technologies will be deployed, gas works well with solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP).
Solar PV is used to tackle peak demand, such as during the day when air conditioners are running at full force.
Since the technology does not have cost-efficient storage capabilities, the power is immediately fed into the grid.
There are times when sand and haze would prohibit much sunlight from being captured.
This is where combined cycle gas turbines come in, using solar when it is available and gas when it isn’t.
While CSP comes with a storage capability, the technology also generates steam that can be injected into a combined cycle gas-fired power plant. This allows a higher electricity output, which boosts the efficiency of the power plant beyond normal capabilities.
This is known as an integrated solar combined cycle (ISCC) plant, which has already been deployed throughout the region.
Saudi Arabia announced two years ago that it would build its first ISCC plant in Duba on its Red Sea coast, which will generate up to 550 megawatts (MW), with the steam from the solar field to supply a further 50MW.
Adding 9.5GW of renewable energy to Saudi Arabia’s grid by 2023 would be only about 5 per cent of its power generation, but that would be a starting point towards the 10 per cent commitment that it has stated, although without giving a timeline. The country’s government has never set a target, just an initial plan by the King Abdullah Centre for Atomic and Renewable Energy (Ka-Care).
And considering that the country has only about 25MW of renewable energy in place now – the latest announcement is an important shift towards renewables.
“I’m confident the Saudis are going to like renewables so much as they go, and the eventual build-up is going to be much higher than 10 per cent of generation,” said Moritz Borgmann, a partner at Apricum – the Cleantech Advisory.
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Updated: June 9, 2016 04:00 AM