Renewable Energy Sources for Saudi Arabia


In the modern age, the transition to renewable energy sources may be inevitable. The continuous depletion of oil, environmentally unsafe measures of resource gathering and utilization, as well as the technological advances in the field of alternative energy, have shown that traditional energy sources are not going to be viable for much longer. Countries that have relied on oil and natural gas for decades are now becoming more concerned with environmentally-friendly renewable energy, not to lose the competitive edge they have on the international market. One such country is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Historically, the country relied on petroleum as its main source of funding, and with the growing interest toward alternative energy sources, the energy industry of the country is focused on finding ways to adapt before it is too late. Unfortunately, the process has to be kept slow to ensure that the oil market and oil prices are not affected. The country has a lot of monetary resources, but a lot of factors need to be considered before any single solution is chosen. This paper will provide background information on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its energy resources, and how it may become more modern and efficient through the implementation of renewable resources.

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Background Information

In 1932, Ibn Saud founded the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by uniting the regions of Hejaz, Najd, as well as parts of Southern Arabia and Eastern Arabia. The government of the country is a monarchical autocracy. However, a lot of infrastructures are reliant and controlled by private enterprises. This can be seen in the power and water sector, where the majority of resources are controlled and distributed by private companies. Saudi Arabia is divided into 13 regions which are then divided into 118 governorates. Each region has its own capital. The 13 regions are grouped by their geographical location. In the center, Qassim and Riyadh are located. In the west, are Tabuk, Madinah, and Makkah. In the north are the Northern Borders region, Jawf, and Ha’il. In the south, Bahah, Jizan, ‘Asir, and Najran can be found. The east of the country is home to the Eastern Province. The western region is the most populated, with Makkah having the highest population in the country (Vassiliev 110).

Petroleum in the country was discovered in 1938 and quickly became the cornerstone of the Saudi Arabian economy. The vast amount of resources allowed the country to develop much faster than most countries that appeared since the 1900s (Vassiliev 407). Alongside oil, Saudi Arabia’s economy is based on natural gas, methyl alcohol, gold, and other resources but the vast majority of the country’s exports are reliant on petroleum oils. It is one of the top countries in oil production, and its confirmed oil wells contain the largest amount of resources in the world. Over the decades, the country became increasingly focused on advancing its petroleum industry. While it provided a great number of funds to the country, it also led to a variety of negative outcomes. Currently, the country produces a significant amount of CO2 emissions, which pollute the air and contribute to global warming. Saudi Arabia has a serious issue with water production. The country heavily relies on desalination for its water supply as the groundwater supply is non-renewable and the majority of it was used in agriculture. The difficulty of water delivery forced the government to rely on private organizations, but the situation is still not stable as some regions are able to provide water only a few days at a time.

The country’s economy is considered one of the least diversified in the region and did not feature a developed production sector. The lack of diversification makes the country extremely reliant on oil trade and any issue with the oil market may reflect on almost every aspect of the Saudi Arabian economy. The abundance of oil and natural gas in the area also prevented the development of renewable energy in the region, as only small-scale experimental projects were implemented in some regions of the country.

The estimated population of the country for 2017 is 33 million people with a density of 15 people per square kilometer. The majority of the population is Saudi nationals. However, a large group of foreign citizens is also present in the area, with an estimated split between nationals and foreigners being 2/1. The ethnic composition of Saudi Arabia consists of two main groups. The first is Arab which is the majority group that makes up 90% of the country’s population. The second is Afro-Asian that fills the remaining 10%. The majority of the population lives in Hejaz, a region on the west of the country and is the site of two holy cities Mecca and Medina. Currently, more than 80% of the population lives in metropolitan areas. Arabic is the official language of Saudi Arabia, with three regional variants present in the population. The country does not release information about the economic levels of its citizens and actively prevents investigations of poverty, with some cases of people being arrested for investigations.

The country’s area occupies approximately 80% of the Arabian Peninsula, which is the largest in the world. In the south, the country borders with the United Arab Emirates. This complicates the calculation of the full size of the country due to the non-exact marking of Oman. However, the estimated size of the country is 2,149,690 square kilometers. It is the largest country in the Arabian region. The majority of the country consists of the Arabian Desert, which is considered to be the world’s largest continuous sand desert. The country features no permanent rivers, but a few lakes exist. The various areas of Saudi Arabia also feature various valleys referred to as “wadi.” These areas are considered fertile and are often used for agriculture. In the north, the country is bordered by Jordan and Iraq, and Kuwait. Aside from Oman and the United Arab Emirates, the country is also bordered by Yemen in the south. The coastline of the country includes the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. It is the only country to have access to both. The areas of the country that are not dominated by the desert terrain feature mountainous areas that allow for slightly more diverse geography.

The climate in the majority of the country is arid, with dessert being the main type of terrain. The day-time temperatures in the country are very high, but at night they may drop very fast. The average summer temperatures range from 113 degrees Fahrenheit to 129 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, the temperatures can drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but it is a rare occasion. Annual rainfall in the country is almost nonexistent, which creates issues with a water supply and agriculture. However, one of the regions has a distinctly different climate. The Asir province, which is located in the southwestern area of the country is a mountainous region located on a high plateau. The area is subject to oceanic monsoons and receives more rain than all the other areas of the country. The area features an extreme range of temperatures from over 30 degrees Fahrenheit to much colder weather the next morning. The area is the main hub of agriculture in the country as it does not require excessive mining for water.

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Energy Use

Due to its predominant focus on petroleum, Saudi Arabia’s majority of the country’s energy generation comes from its oil industry. However, the oil industry is mostly involved in export, which leaves only a portion of energy for the country itself. It is estimated that the country produces more than 648 million tons of oil equivalent energy every year. This number combines oil production with power stations and other sources of power. Saudi Arabia consumes more than 313 terawatts per hour across all of its sectors. 9930-kilowatt hour per capita is consumed by the population of the country (Saudi Arabia: Indicators for 2015). The transportation sector of the country serves around 12 million vehicles, which consume more than 811,000 barrels of oil daily.

These numbers suggest that 23% of the country’s energy is used by the transportation sector, meaning that 2283 kilowatt-hours are used by transportation every day (Transport Sector Accounts). In recent years, the industrial sector of Saudi Arabia was focused on reducing the percentage of its energy consumption. The latest measures indicate that as a whole, the industrial sector consumes 40% of all energy in the country, meaning that it consumes 3972-kilowatt hours (Industrial Sector Accounts for More than 40%). While current data on the energy consumption of the building sector is not currently available, a paper from 2014 finds that 52% of the total energy consumption is dedicated to the residential buildings, meaning that they consume 5163.6-kilowatt hours (Asif and Alrashed 376). However, it is possible that the data could have changed since the publication. Nevertheless, it is one of the most demanding sectors for energy in the country.

Current Energy Sources

The top energy sources in the country are:

  1. Natural Gas
  2. Oil

As was mentioned previously, the country is extremely reliant on petroleum and natural gas. The arid climate and lack of permanent water sources prevent Saudi Arabia from diversifying its energy sources, which means that the country does not generate a significant level of energy from any sources besides oil and gas. Although plans for energy diversification exist, Saudi Arabia actively uses only oil and natural gas as its energy sources. The majority of the energy is generated from natural gas sources. Natural gas energy comprises 51.16% of all energy production in the country. This means that it generates 517,271-kilowatt-hours every day. The second most used energy source in the country is oil. Despite the much higher production of petroleum products in the country, its use as a power source is slightly less frequent than natural gas. Oil is used to generate 48.84% of energy in the country. Approximately it generates 409,673-kilowatt-hours per day (Saudi Arabia: Electricity and Heat). The country currently does not utilize nuclear energy, coal energy, or any other type of energy source with rare exceptions for early experimentation with renewable energy sources.

Potential of Renewable Energy Sources

Despite the current lack of alternatives to oil and natural gas power in Saudi Arabia, it has a large number of projects designed to implement various renewable energy sources for power generation. At the moment, the country implemented only solar energy as a renewable resource and only in specific areas such as Farasan Island, Al-Uyaynah village, and places of research and development. Due to the limited implementation, the data on the daily use of solar energy in the country is not representative of its potential. Nevertheless, solar power generates 17.91-kilowatt-hours of energy per capita every year, meaning that approximately 0.04-kilowatt-hours per capita are generated every day (Energy Consumption in Saudi Arabia).

It is highly important to establish that the country has great potential for renewable resources, however. In February 2017, the Saudi Arabian government dedicated $50 billion to establish large-scale renewable energy projects in the country. They plan to build enough renewable energy infrastructures with a power capacity of 700 megawatts. The projects include a 300-megawatt solar power plant in the Al Jouf province, as well as a 400-megawatt wind plant in the Tabuk province (Dipaola). These are only the first projects in a long plan to implement renewable energy into the Saudi Arabian energy production pipeline. In the next seven years, Saudi Arabia plans to create 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy through 30 projects. 10% of the country’s power will be created through renewable energy by 2023. Also, a wind turbine facility in Turaif, created by Saudi Aramco, began operation in the spring of 2017. However, no annual data is currently available about its daily power generation per capita. The country has no plans of implementing any other types of renewable energy at this time. To be specific, current projects integrate three types of renewable power: solar photovoltaic, solar concentrating photovoltaic, and wind turbine power.

Advice on Future Energy Transition

For Saudi Arabia, the issue of the energy transition is gradually becoming a major concern. As it was mentioned in the country’s energy analysis, almost all the energy is produced through non-renewable resources such as natural gas and oil. Both resources share some significant disadvantages. They create dangerous levels of CO2 emissions, they are non-renewable, and in case of an accident may lead to massive ecological disasters. In recent years, the country began a number of projects designed to implement renewable energy into the energy production of the country. They include large-scale wind and solar projects that are designed to generate around 10% of the country’s electricity by the year 2023. However, these plans may require additional elements and considerations that the government of Saudi Arabia has not yet publicly addressed. The following steps are designed to address these considerations and recommend further actions for the energy transition.

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Implement a Small Quantity of Renewable Energy

One of the important aspects of renewable energy integration in a country that is dependent on oil is a careful measurement of how much renewable energy should be implemented over a period of time. While some European countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and Germany are focused on very aggressive renewable energy integration programs, with a 20-percent policy. They are designed to implement as much renewable energy as possible over the shortest amount of time. However, in the case of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, such an approach could be detrimental to the country. This is why a smaller amount of renewable energy should be integrated at the start. Saudi Arabian energy production should focus on implementing a 5-percent to 10-percent renewable energy policy for the time being. If a larger amount of renewable energy is implemented into the energy production in the country, it may increase the number of oil exports. This increase will make the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia even more dependent on oil for its economy. The country would become increasingly susceptible to the decline in oil prices in the market, which would be guaranteed by the increased amount of oil exports. Additionally, the mass integration of renewable energy into the power grid may be too expensive to be viable for the country.

The primary impact of renewable energy in the region would be seen in the decrease in the price of power. Unlike most countries, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has extremely low prices for petroleum products and natural gas due to its abundant oil and gas reserves. This allowed the government to rely on natural gas and oil power for electricity generation for the majority of the country’s history. However, even considering the low oil prices in the region, the use of renewable energy sources such as solar power and wind turbines is still cheaper. This is caused by the large amounts of energy that are required to mine for resources, maintain mining and other infrastructure before oil becomes energy for the country. It is also a much more safe option for the environment of the country. Oil production is an extremely dangerous process for the environment.

Oil spills caused by malfunctioning equipment or human error, the buildup of waste products, CO2 emissions, and other factors of basic oil refinery operation can bring a lot of pollutants into the areas surrounding them. Moreover, oil fires are extremely hard to put out and can be considered a complete ecological disaster for the region. The introduction of renewable energy sources would reduce the amount of oil and natural gas needed to supply power to the region. Therefore, less harmful consequences are likely to affect the country. It should also introduce new jobs for the region because previously the country did not have a strong production or service industry. New jobs may involve a solar panel assembly or production industry, construction engineers, and builders. Even in the minimal 5-percent scenario, a large amount of construction and production would be required to fulfill the goal. The effects on the environment, society, and industry are projected to be positive.

The action is likely to be successful in reaching the emissions reduction goal for a variety of reasons. The first is that the country currently emits more than 601047 kiloton of carbon emissions, which is a very large amount. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is in the top 15 of the countries that produce the most carbon emissions on an annual basis. 68% of all the emissions in the country come from liquid fuel consumption. If the consumption of liquid fuels in the country becomes less prominent, the number of emissions should be significantly reduced in turn. The most difficult barrier to the implementation of renewed energy comes from the cost of its integration into the power grid of the country.

A massive push for renewed energy may be highly costly and would lead to the program losing its viability. This barrier can be overcome however with a smaller scale 5-percent and 10-percent plans of integration. Another barrier might be the increase in oil exports of the country due to the reduction of oil used for energy generation. Currently, a fourth of all oil production is used for energy generation in the country. By reducing the use of oil for power, more would be used as exports. An increase in oil exports may be highly damaging to the country for two reasons. The first is that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be more dependent on oil as a result. This dependency would lead to the country becoming vulnerable to the changes in oil prices. The second is that the oil market may not be able to sustain the current level of prices if the increase in exports would be too high. To overcome these barriers, the amount of renewable energy should be carefully controlled, and only a limited increase in exports should be permitted.

Calculations of the changes in macroeconomic variables show that the changes between 5-percent policy and 20-percent policy are the following. Electricity production, energy services, and non-energy domestic production should not be affected if the 5-percent policy is implemented. However the GDP of the country would increase by 0.2 percent, public transfers would be increased 0.4 percent, but the most important number is the increase in oil exports. They are set to increase only by 0.7 percent. However, in the case of a 20-percent policy, the increase in exports would be 2.8 percent. This means that the number of oil exports would increase by either 52,000 barrels of oil or 207,000 barrels. The difference may be catastrophic for the international oil market, and therefore a smaller scale of renewable energy should be implemented. The Levelized cost of electricity, also known as LCOE, is estimated as 3.56 thousand Saudi Riyals if their value is based on the 2010 prices.

Utilize the Climate of the Country to Implement Solar Energy

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia utilizes a very high level of power. From the needs of the population to transportation and industry, the country uses a fourth of its massive oil production pipeline on its energy. As it was previously discussed, the government of the country began investing in renewable energy to help reduce the use of oil for energy generation. Perhaps the most viable type of renewable energy for the country is solar. This viability can be explained by the extreme temperatures of the arid desert environment in the majority of the country’s regions. With the exception of the Asir province, the country is almost entirely covered by a desert, with long periods of uninterrupted sunshine, especially in the rural areas of the country. It is estimated that on average, more than 2200 thermal kilowatt hours per square meter fall on the various regions of Saudi Arabia. Rainfall is extremely rare in the country, and overcast weather is just as unlikely due to the position of the country in the region of the planet called the “sunbelt.”

These conditions make the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a perfect candidate for the use of solar energy. The specific type of energy that should be used in the region is called solar photovoltaic energy, also known as solar PV. The country has already experimented with solar energy and has two large solar energy projects that are currently operational. The first is the Farasan solar power plant that is designed as a stand-alone power plant that provides energy to the Farasan Islands. Delivery of oil to the island was much too expensive, which prompted the government to consider alternative solutions. The plant has a capacity of 500 kilowatts at the peak of the system and has been operational since 2011. The second large-scale project is called the North Park Project, and it is located in Dhahran. It is considered the largest solar parking project in the world and provides 10-megawatt carport power over 200,000 square meters of land. Neither of the projects is currently connected to the main power grid, however, despite their success. The county of Saudi Arabia should focus on implementing solar PV power stations as a way to meet its goal of using renewable energy.

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Since the previous step also concerned the implementation of renewable energy, its effects on society are similar to those of solar PV implementation. However, some effects of this step are specific to the solar PV energy, and overall benefits can be described in greater detail. The greenhouse gases released by the current methods of energy generation can be extremely harmful to the population of the country. With the majority of the power being generated from crude oil which often has a high content of sulfur, the emissions of the power plants are rarely controlled enough to keep the air in the region clean. CO2, SO2, and other greenhouse gases are also some of the major causes of global warming that is set to have a serious effect on the infrastructure of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The concentration of these gases in the atmosphere of the country is much higher than the established acceptable norm, and the cost of health impacts on the people of Saudi Arabia is much higher than those of European countries such as France or Germany. Solar PV energy does not produce such gases, and it does not have a negative impact on people’s health. Therefore, its implementation would have positive effects on society and on the environment of the country. It may also lead to breakthroughs in solar power technology because Saudi Arabia is the perfect testbed for new solar power innovations. The data that would be gathered from the Saudi Arabian solar plants could be unique due to the ideal climate and high need for energy in the area.

The action should be successful in reaching the emission reduction goal because of the almost constant clear skies present in Saudi Arabia. The available sunshine and climate of Saudi Arabia should guarantee the ideal conditions for the use of solar PV power plants. The previously addressed barriers to renewable energy apply to solar PV power implementation as well. If the implementation of solar energy does not exceed 10% of renewable energy goals, the barriers should not become an issue for the step.

Modern costs of PV energy are approaching 1$ per watt peak. However, the conventional cost of petroleum-generated power is 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. While the difference in cost may seem high, it does not reflect the cost of oil mining, oil processing, and others. The costs of solar power are expected to become fully competitive with conventional power sources by the year 2020.

Implement Wind Farms in the Coastal Regions of Saudi Arabia

While the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a climate that is especially suitable for solar PV energy generation, its geographical position may also allow for the use of wind farms in the coastal regions of the country. The most likely areas for wind farms are located in Al-Wajh, Jeddah, Yanbu, and Jizan regions of the country. They are located on the coast, and it may be economically feasible to install 75-megawatt wind power plants to provide additional renewable electricity to the electric grid of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The available data on the wind speeds in these regions shows that the average wind speed varies from 3.0 to 4.5 meters per second at a height of 10 meters. Wind speeds in the presented regions are estimated to be less than 3 meters per second for 45% of the time in Al-Wajh, 53% in Jeddah, 41% in Yanbu, and 52% in Jizan. This means that the wind plants will not be able to produce power for approximately 50% of the time in the year, however, the number of megawatt-hours that may be generated annually, as well as the price of each kilowatt-hour suggests that the implementation of wind power plants in the coastal regions may be an effective secondary source of renewable power for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Implementation of a variety of power sources may be especially important as the diversification of the energy sources in the country would allow its energy generation system to be more flexible.

Implementation of coastal wind power plants should have the expected effect on the environment of these regions. When the plants are operational, fewer greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere, and less crude oil would have to be used as an energy source. However, the effect would not be as prominent as with solar PV power, since wind turbines will not be operational for almost half of the time due to differences in the wind. The effect on society would be noticeable. However, the construction industry in the area would be able to provide jobs for the citizens, as well as those who would maintain the wind turbines. No significant effect on the technological aspects of the region is expected aside from possible useful data being collected from the wind farms. Overall, the effects on the region are expected to be positive, and yet not especially significant. This fact would lead to the limited use of wind energy in the country. Nevertheless, its use would still contribute to the goal of achieving 10% use of renewable energy in the region.

This action should contribute to the goal of lower greenhouse gas emissions in the region because it would provide clean energy for at least half of the time during its operation. While it will not be a primary solution to the issue, it could still be used as additional power. The main barrier to this technology is the lack of guaranteed power at all times of the day. It is possible that to keep the project fully efficient, wind turbines would have to be placed only in areas with the most consistent wind speeds. Coastal construction may also be expensive. However, the limited scope of the project and the low cost of energy suggest that in the long-term the project should be beneficial for the selected regions.

Calculations show that the region of Al-Wajh would be able to generate 107,196 megawatt hours every year for the cost of $0,0536 per kilowatt hour, Jeddah is expected to generate 81,648 megawatt hours for $0,0704, Yanbu should deliver 135,822 megawatt hours for $0,0423, and Jizan should be able to generate 80,896 megawatt hours annually for $0,0711 per kilowatt hour. Despite the unstable rate at which the power is generated, the projected annual statistics are relatively positive.

These are the three most important steps that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia should take to being transferring its energy from conventional crude oil and natural gas sources to cleaner renewable energy. While the suggested steps are focused on transitioning only 5 to 10 percent of the country’s energy to renewable sources, it is not out of the realm of possibility that after these steps prove to be successful, the country would continue transitioning its energy to safer options. However, at the current time, such transitions may lead to a variety of significant problems for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the international oil markets. Further steps should only be taken when the country would be able to implement them without a major increase in oil exports.


Saudi Arabia is a country that is almost entirely reliant on non-renewable resources. It is consistently the largest producer of various types of oil and other petroleum products every year and almost a quarter of it is used for domestic energy needs. The country consumes a large amount of electric power, and there are no means of meeting the demand through renewable energy. In recent years natural gas became the main energy source in the country, but the government of the country is highly involved in establishing new renewable energy projects with plans of generating 10% of the energy through renewable energy sources. This percentage may be lower than those of the European countries, but it has to be kept low. Transition to renewable energy will increase the number of oil barrels used for export, which may cause larger dependence on oil in the country, as well as lower oil prices on the international market.

Due to the arid desert climate, the country receives a lot of uninterrupted sunshine. These climate conditions are almost ideal for implementation of solar energy, and the potential for its utilization is very high. Wind turbines also may be implemented due to the suitable conditions on the coasts of the country. The implementation process requires a lot of funds but through subsidization, partnerships and careful planning, they may be met. Despite the abundance of non-renewable resources in the country, they create a high level of harmful emissions which contribute to global warming and pollution of the country. With the global interest in transitioning to renewable energy, the government of Saudi Arabia is interested in keeping its status. Therefore, they require renewable energy to ensure their future.

Works Cited

Asif, Muhammad, and Farajallah Alrashed. “Trends in Residential Energy Consumption in Saudi Arabia with Particular Reference to the Eastern Province.” Journal of Sustainable Development of Energy, Water and Environment Systems, vol. 2, Dec. 2014, pp. 376–87. Web.

Dipaola, Anthony. “Saudis Kick Off $50 Billion Renewable Energy Plan to Cut Oil Use.” Bloomberg.Com, Web.

“Energy Consumption in Saudi Arabia.” World Data, 2017, Web.

“Industrial Sector Accounts for More than 40% of Domestic Energy Consumption.” Arab News, Web.

“Saudi Arabia: Electricity and Heat for 2015.” International Energy Agency, 2015, Web.

“Saudi Arabia: Indicators for 2015.” International Energy Agency, 2015, Web.

“Transport Sector Accounts for 23% of Energy Usage.” Arab News, Web.

Vassiliev, Alexei. The History of Saudi Arabia. Saqi Books, 2013.

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