The Riyadh solar megaproject poses considerable challenges. Scientists at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology are trying to solve some of their big problems.
When Saudi Arabia and Softbank announced the world’s largest solar project, a pharaonic plan to build 200 GW of solar panels in the desert, one of the first criticisms was the difficulty in maintaining it.
A system of this type requires special attention, both due to its size and the place of installation. That is why the engineers at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) have already set to work: the main objective is to make the future plant – which will cover an area twice the size of Hong Kong – resistant to difficult desert conditions. Starting with the possible sandstorms that will hit your structures.
In fact, the team of scientists is testing solar panels in the laboratory under various physical stresses. They simulated the effects of a sandstorm on the photovoltaic modules in a cylindrical chamber to test their durability, while other machines demonstrated their mechanical resistance to shocks.
These are, of course, not the only challenges that the Saudi PV dream will have to solve: to manage the amount of energy the project plans to produce, experts argue that the Kingdom will have to invest large amounts of money to improve its electricity grid and build large-scale battery storage facilities.
” We can do it, ” explained Adel al-Sheween, director of the technology city’s solar laboratory, referring to the great ambition of the project. ” It will take time, but we have all the raw materials: sun, earth and, above all, will .”
The Saudi tech city was built some thirty years ago in a village near the capital to carry out clean energy research. But only now does it seem to have gotten the right momentum. A drive driven both by the need to diversify the domestic economy and purely geopolitical.
As James Dorsey, a Middle East expert at St. Rajaratnam’s School of International Studies in Singapore, explains. “ The problem with Saudi Arabia is that Iran and Qatar have gas reserves that you do not have. This is one of the reasons renewable energy is featured prominently in Prince Mohammed’s reform agenda: not only to prepare the kingdom economically for a post-oil future, but also to ensure its continued geopolitical importance . ”