Gulf countries, whilst rich in oil and natural gas, also have an abundant supply of sun, which makes them an ideal location for solar power technologies, yet despite this fact they lag far behind the rest of the world in terms of capacity installed.
Saudi officials have talked about solar power for years, and even made plans to install 41,000MW over the next 20 years, but whilst China installed 5,000MW in 2012 alone, Saudi Arabia still has virtually no solar generation capacity.
As solar prices have fallen, and oil prices have risen, Saudi Arabia now has a strong economic incentive to push ahead with its long awaited solar plans. Arabian Business has said that solar power would allow the Saudi’s to save more oil to be exported at over $100 a barrel, whilst at the same time producing electricity for less than half the cost of its current oil-fired power plants. (Related article: A U.S.-China War over Solar Power)
Wail Bamhair, the project manager of the Saudi Arabian team that visited the US’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory last week, said that “Saudi Arabia is determined to diversify its energy sources and reduce its dependence on hydrocarbons. Renewable energy isn't just an option, but absolutely necessary. We have the means to build renewable energy, and we need to do it.”
Europe once completely dominated the global solar market, yet debt problems, combined with a recent solar panel trade war with China, has seen demand from Europe fall greatly. Saudi Arabia’s desire to install vast amounts of generation capacity makes them a potentially important market, and they will be able to take advantage of this with Chinese manufacturers.