A prominent expert in the field of renewable energy technology has called on Saudi Arabia to invest heavily in solar technology. Professor Ali Sayigh, director general of the UK-based World Renewable Energy Network, was speaking at a public lecture on solar energy organized by the Center of Research for Excellence in Renewable Energy at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM).
“Saudi Arabia has the resources to allocate substantial funds for research in this particular field. Keep oil under ground or maybe use it for better purposes, such as for producing medicines or chemicals. There is no point in burning it all up,” he said. “Just as you have a basket of currencies, have a basket of energies: Oil, gas and renewables. There is no harm in that.”
He said Saudi Arabia and other Arab and Middle Eastern countries are ideally suited for producing solar energy. “This is the region that has a very high concentration of solar rays. The sun burns brightest in this part of the world and therefore the production of solar energy is much easier here,” Sayigh said.
According to Sayigh, in the 1970s and early 1980s when the government asked researchers to search for oil in Saudi Arabia’s Western Province, they discovered gold instead. “The official reaction was: ‘Let us keep it aside. We don’t need gold at the moment.’ If Saudi Arabia succeeds in tapping solar energy, we can have a similar scenario whereby the country can say: ‘We don’t need to use oil. Let us use solar energy instead,” said Sayigh.
To a question from the audience whether solar energy is cost-effective, Sayigh had this to say: “What is viable? You should ask yourself. Is killing yourself in a short period of time better than living longer and enjoying a healthy life? When a person is ill, he goes to a doctor and says, ‘Doctor, take all my wealth; just make me healthy.’ Remember that the extensive use of fossil fuels is triggering climate change; there is global warming. We need to look at other better and cleaner sources of energy,” he said.
Sayigh said the technology would become cheaper when it is produced on a mass scale. “In the 1970s, when I was teaching at King Saud University in Riyadh, I needed a solar cell. ‘No, no, no, this is secret technology,’ I was told. Some years later, I was told, ‘Yes, you can have a solar cell, but it will cost you $200.’ And now you go to any supermarket and find solar cells. The more we manufacture, the cheaper they will be,” he said.
Professor Ahmed Ghoniem, professor of Mechanical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), called for collaboration among various universities and research institutes in the Kingdom to take research in renewables to the next level. He praised KFUPM for launching the research institute.
Geologist Jim Tucker commended the research center’s initiative and appreciated the involvement of the local industry in the event. He was referring to the presence of Riad Al-Saad, CEO of Azmeel Holding Co. “Without local industry participation, such initiatives cannot bear fruit,” he said. “They will become viable when local industries join in the effort.”
Center Director Habib Abualhamayel said there was no magic solution to the world’s problems. “All technologies come with their own set of problems. We have to study everything in detail. We also have to ensure that new technology is suited to our environment,” he said and added that GCC countries would have to chart a road map for the region’s energy future.
The Center of Research for Excellence in Renewable Energy was established by the Ministry of Higher Education in 2007. “The center aims to further the scientific/technological development in all the major areas of renewable energy with an emphasis on solar energy,” said Assistant Director Dr. S.U. Rahman. “Many more seminars and public lectures have been lined up in the coming days,” he added.