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    Oil Is Not Enough: Saudi Arabia Wants to Boost Geothermal Energy Production

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    Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, has announced that it will invest some $30-$50 billion toward renewable energies in the coming years. As a part of Vision 2030, the kingdom intends to develop solar, wind and geothermal sources of energy.

    Vision 2030, a strategy of nation-wide economic overhaul, has been adopted by Riyadh as a response to recent oil price drops. According to the plan, the country will no longer rely solely on the export of oil, diversifying its economy, including its energy sector.

    Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al Falih, speaking at the ongoing World Future Energy summit in Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE, said that his country looks forward to generating 10 gigawatts, from a combination of solar, wind and geothermal power projects, to be installed by 2023.

    While solar and wind power exploitation in Saudi Arabia are evident, it is less known that there are at least 10 geothermal sources within the kingdom. Local media reports recent studies showing geothermal sites in the Al Khouba area, in the southwestern province of Jizan.

    After preliminary examination of the sites, involving satellite imagery, geo-indicators and a 2D electric geophysical survey, researchers estimate that an Al Khouba geothermal plant could generate up to 17.847 megawatts of energy.

    The potential of geothermal energy development comes from the western part of Saudi Arabia. which featuring areas of high volcanic activity, known locally as ‘harrats.' Volcanoes by the side of an expressway between Jeddah-Makkah and Madinah have a basaltic lava-field chain up to 375-miles long, the Makkah-Madinah-Nafud volcanic line. Between Makkah and Madinah, the Harrat Rahat lava-field is spread over an area of some 7700 square miles, containing about 36 shield volcanoes and 24 lava domes. Atmospheric temperatures at such areas can be up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

    According to Al Falih, "there will be significant investment in nuclear energy," as well, adding that Saudi Arabia is currently developing its first two commercial nuclear reactors with a total output of 2.8 gigawatts.

    Saudi Arabia, the world's leading oil exporter, also suffers from one of the highest per-capita CO2 emissions ratings. Switching the energy sector from fossil fuels will take time, technology, and coordination between various stakeholders, according to energy expert Mohamed Ramady. Ramady points out that, due to a large number of stakeholders in the renewables program, a lot of work in the kingdom is redundant, impeding the implementation of Vision 2030.

    According to the Riyadh-based King Abdullah Center for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE), fossil fuels will remain a prime element in the energy mix, up to 2032, with estimated net output of 60 gigawatts. This will also be supported with an optimistic prediction of 17.6 gigawatts from nuclear energy, 41 gigawatts from solar energy, of which 16 gigawatts will be generated through the use of photovoltaic cells, and 25 gigawatts by concentrated solar power, 9 gigawatts from wind power, 3 gigawatts  from waste processing and 1 gigawatt from geothermal plants.

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    geothermal power, renewable energy, King Abdullah Center for Atomic and Renewable Energy, Khalid Al-Falih, Saudi Arabia
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