Saudi Arabia has announced it is on track to start work on its first major solar farm early next year. Photograph: Michaela Rehle/REUTERS
With the latest UN climate change summit kicking off in the Quatari capital of Doha this week, attention will be focused on how the oil and gas-rich Gulf States are responding to climate change.
So it was perhaps unsurprising that Saudia Arabia chose last week to confirm it is on track to start work on its first major solar farm early next year, as part of ambitious plans that could see the world's largest oil exporter generate a third of its electricity from the sun within 20 years.
Khalid al-Suliman, vice president at the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, told the state-owned Saudi Press Agency that work on the country's first solar farm is poised to start as soon as the government signs off on his department's high profile renewable energy strategy.
He added the project was on track to begin feeding electricity into the grid by 2015 and will mark the first step on the government's path towards delivering 41GW of solar capacity by 2032, through a combination of solar PV and solar thermal technologies.
Saudi Arabia announced this year that it is to become the latest Gulf state to adopt a wide-ranging solar strategy, outlining plans to invest $109bn over the next 20 years in order to take advantage of its excellent solar resources and diversify its energy mix. Its stance echoes that of several countries in the region, including Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai, all of which have recently unveiled new plans for accelerating investment in renewable energy.
The latest update came as Saudi Arabia's ACWA Power International reportedly signed a $1bn deal to supply the Moroccan government with electricity from a 160MW solar thermal plant the company has built with Spain's Aries Ingenieria & Sistemas SA and TSK Electronica & Electricidad SA.
Under the 25 year power purchase agreement, the Moroccan government has agreed to take the power from the facility in Ouarzazate when it comes online in 2015.
Separately, the Saudi Press Agency reported the country was also moving forward with plans for up to 17 new nuclear reactors over the next 20 years, at an estimated cost of $100bn.