Saudi Arabia controls the second-largest oil reserve in the world, and the country’s wealth and influence is entirely founded on its huge reserves of the black gold. But times are changing for the conservative desert-kingdom. The low oil prices have made the International Monetary Fund (IMF) proclaim that Saudi Arabia will be bankrupt within five years, because 90% of their economy is based on oil.

At the same time Saudi Arabia is a big oil spender itself. The country’s energy consumption has been growing at an alarming 7% a year, nearly three times the rate of the population growth. Therefore the country might have to look up instead of down and focus on the renewable energy source that is floating from a clear blue sky. And the Saudis have good reason to do so.

Normally, the challenge with renewables is that it can’t be stored for later use, but in Saudi Arabia consumption and production can go hand in hand

Saudi Arabia is mostly covered by desert and has an average close to nine hours of sunshine every day. The location in the so-called sunbelt and with the widespread desert land makes good conditions for generating power. Normally, the challenge with renewables is that it can’t be stored for later use, but in Saudi Arabia consumption and production can go hand in hand.

A balanced energy supply

Today, the Saudis generate almost all their electricity from fossil fuels, like oil and natural gas, and if the growth in consumption continues at the current rate, Saudi Arabia will by 2030 need to import oil to produce enough energy.

However, the political leaders want to focus on a more mixed energy supply, including renewable energy. And if you think about it, what if Saudi Arabia were to cover its entire need of electricity from solar panels, how much land would it take?

A rough estimate suggests that it would take only an area of 30 by 30 kilometres of desert land to cover the entire need. In a country where the distance from north to south is almost 2,000 kilometres and from east to west is more than 1,500 kilometres, it should be possible. It will not happen all at once, but at some point the Saudis must give in to their enormous solar resources.