What I'm thinking is that this will lead to innovation in industrial processes that can productively use a lot of energy in a 4-8 hour window...something you can turn on in a big way and then turn off. Such a process effectively "stores" the energy in the product. The larger the electricity share of such a process, the closer the marginal cost gets to zero during sunny times.
Most modern industrial processes aren't like that: either they're not very power constrained (e.g., a toy factory) or they need the power to be on for a while (e.g., a steel mill). But then again it makes sense these are the types of processing we've perfected, since that's the kind of power we've hard so far in large quantities (coal, nuclear).
Does anyone know of products that can be made quickly by the application of raw energy? I don't know how desalination works, but (just as an example) if there were such a desalination process then Saudi Arabia could desalinate tremendous amounts of water and store it...or even export it to neighbors.
I am not so excited about the idea of a fundamentalist monarchy---one that is helping starve the poor Yemenis---getting even more power, but I am excited about the downstream innovations the fact of nearly-free electricity could potentially create. If SA invents such processes, then they could be copied in other places.
For instance, if I have an efficient computer system that costs $100 for every watt consumed, it's not going to make sense to run it only during that 20% of the time there's excess electricity. The effective capital cost is then 5 times greater. I'd be better off investing in a battery and extra solar to allow it to run it 24/7.
But if, instead, I have something which has incredibly low capital costs, like 10 cents per Watt consumed, and which can tolerate being shutdown and restarted, then even though it might only be operating 20% of the time, the effective capital cost is still just 50 cents per Watt, even cheaper than a battery capital cost. So it makes economic sense to use that to soak up the extra electricity demand.
This is why the key for hydrogen electrolysis isn't so much efficiency but capital costs: a variable-renewables-heavy grid will have enormous amounts of excess electricity at times, but only for fairly brief periods. You can't economically "store" that electricity using hydrogen if your electrolysis capital costs are so high you need to run your electrolysis cell 24/7!
If you want to make the hydrogen economy a reality, FORGET about hydrogen cars. Focus on hydrogen electrolysis capital costs!!!
Reverse osmosis uses (600–1200 psi) for seawater = 1400 to 2800 feet of elevation which is taller than what they have available, but sill very viable. Further, as reverse osmosis already needs to pump salt water to high pressure the only change is simply slightly larger pumps and a big pit plus some piping for massive amounts of energy storage.
While $200b is about $200b more than virtually all of us have, all the Crown Prince has to do is hold another Ritz Carlton party. This time they know he's serious so they'll pay in a few days.
Desalination is a good idea too, but instead of selling the water they could use it to grow forests and then sell carbon credits.
More seriously, it will boots/create R&D for actual energy storage. Storing it in products might be nice early one, but having application neutral (renewable) energy available whenever for whatever we want seems like an unavoidable trend.
(the solar furnace pictures I've seen in other places tend to have more than one unit of target, and storage, and production)
I believe over-capacity is common in these kinds of things, to ensure a lower sub-multiple of the book power is available so this power budget could be written to lossy storage, or be a huge oversupply to sell at profit on the spot market with loss on transmission but have reserve powers to meet local demands. Or for things like desalination or industries which need high energy inputs. An Aluminium smelter in Australia is looking to use PV to drive some of its costs down. Thats a huge 24/7 power burden, but the thermal mass in the pot-line behind smelting can act as a power buffer, so it may be a dual use proposal in some ways: make power which has loss risks, find uses which can buffer them, have hysteresis, then sell what you can beyond the committed reserves you can store.
Saudi is diversifying away from an oil economy so its possible this is a sign of that, seeking cost and revenue outcomes which decouple the state budget and revenue streams from oil price shocks.
They ultimately have no choice but to get very aggressive, very soon, if they want their nation to survive.
Their population has doubled since 1990 and tripled since 1982. They're adding about 800k-900k new people per year, which is a lot on their base (about double the rate of Australia, which is growing solidly from high immigration).
It's going to be essentially impossible to maintain their standard of living - which is comparable to the Czech Republic, upper mid tier - if they don't come up with a replacement for domestic oil consumption. Long before oil starts to decline globally, the Saudis will be destroying themselves economically through domestic population demands on their energy exports (that has already become a problem, not yet critical though).
This and nuclear tech, are the two ideal ways for them to ensure a maximum amount of oil is available for export in the coming decades.
It's almost certainly PV.. because the price -- $200B for 200GW -- matches perfectly the current price of a new utility scale PV plant ($1/Watt). Those plants have a capacity factor of 10-30%. It'll probably be close to the 30%. So that would reduce the 200GW to 60GW.
That is, for every $1/MWh that the solar station gets paid for it's output it will receive half a billion dollars a year.
Now, a station of this size would massively depress power prices throughout the region unless there was some form of large scale storage unit which could soak it up.
Probably more impactful is the Saudis are currently using oil for their power stations which is heavily subsidized.
Or - taking your numbers - the installation would have to last 400 years without operational costs considered. Isn't that a loss for whoever invests in something like this?
I've read that solar panels (I have one for hot water) might lose some efficacy over the decades but even those installed 40 years ago are still working. I guess at some point it will be cost effective to replace them...or if the math works out leave them working at, say, 60% efficiency, and build a new one. It's not like they're running out of sunny places over there.
[H]e is the richest man in Japan, despite having the distinction of losing the most money in history (approximately $70bn during the dot com crash of 2000).
After that is Takemitsu Takizaki, of Keyence:
Bloomberg did a piece on him last year on the Decrypted podcast.
Of course solar does not work at night, still, even if it's only peak time abatement it works
I'm not sure how it compares nowadays with PV, there was an issue of roasting birds in flight as well, but I think it might be advantageous in some situations
Edit: taking into account the capacity factor it would really only represent 3%; still impressive though.
So best case, 200 GW will only produce 525 TWh annually. This is equivalent to a 66 GW nuclear plant (nuclear has a 90% capacity factor).
Out of 20000 TWh electricity produced globally, that's only 2.5%.
Sure. But these days, you'd be hard pressed to build 66 GW of nuclear for $200 billion. It's costing about US$30 billion for one 3.2GW nuclear plant currently under construction in the UK (Hinkley Point C). And it's probably a lot more than that by the time you account for eventual decommissioning costs and long term waste storage.
They have 19 reactors under construction right now that will add 21GW +/-, and 50-60GW of additional nuclear energy planned for the very near-term. Their goal is to add roughly 100GW+ of new nuclear energy output in the next 12 years.
But it was very expensive.. about $360M for 20MW (or $18B per GW). The price they give -- $200B for 200GW -- would rule out this type of plant.
It's almost certainly PV.. which is currently $1/Watt for new utility scale plants. The price matches perfectly.
But yeah, seems more likely to be PV at this investment price (assuming this will be the total for the project, which I kind of doubt, but I dont know how much costs will inflate to), would be great to get more details about what they are proposing.
"1) regarding price, it's probably PV at those prices, as CSP today comes in at least 2x of PV installed capacity cost and that's taking a very aggressive estimation- although one could probably get CSP costs down to $1/watt with the design and procurement scale economies being talked about. 2) Regarding Venning's point about demand, even with significant amount of energy storage, this would create quite a bit more peak power on sunny days than their current grid demand can handle so announcement may be based on a couple (dodgy to me) assumptions: a) either they assume building it out in phases slowly over time to accompany some aggressive assumed demand growth or b) they are thinking about power exports in a region where Saudi Arabia probably doesn't have too many politically viable customers"
That doesn't sound right. According to the (better) article from Bloomberg , "Saudi Arabia’s electricity generation capacity ... stood at 77 gigawatts in 2016", which that article points out is a third of this new project's.
I don't work in electrical production, but I don't think this capacity will work for 10% of the world. Wikipedia  agrees with your assessment of ~2300GW for worldwide average production; but I think the problem is how an average production number is calculated as compared with quoted output numbers for a given installation.
EDIT: Hmm, if Saudi Arabia produces ~3.3% of the world's electricity currently, then maybe this does represent enough for a substantial percentage of the world's population, assuming the production and capacity numbers are comparable. (Deriving 3.3% from 77GW of 2311GW, which I recognize come from different years.) Anyone who knows more about this care to weigh in?
- The number of hours in a year.
- The percentage of nameplate capacity that the system can be expected to produce on average, e.g. the capacity factor.
There are 8760 hours in a year. A solar PV system in a sunny region may have an annualized capacity factor of 25%. (Installations in really sunny regions may achieve upward of 30%, and Saudi Arabia certainly has a lot of sun, but dust offsets some of the benefits of sunny deserts.)
200 * 8760 * 0.25 = 438000 gigawatt hours of electricity generated per year, e.g. 438 TWh, or about 2% of present annual global electricity generation of 21,000 TWh.
It's a likely boondoggle because solar is still a changing technology, committing to build something now risks being locked into technologies that may be woefully out of date by 2030.
Just imagine if someone tried this 12 years ago - the plant would be coming online today probably with technology that is a lot less efficient than it could have been had they waited.
Nonetheless, I have to say I am inspired by Softbank's and the MBS's vision, good for them.
Also, at that scale, they will be replacing stuff continuously even before they are finished building it.
Google and Amazon aren’t running outdated computers in their ten year old data centers, either.
You can also time-shift cooling, especially if you use central chillers which distribute cold brine to heat exchanges in builders. Parts of Dubai use a system like that.
I'd be very curious to see the math on this one, for desalination and gas processing.
At some point you have to stop worrying about the future and recognize the benefits you can get today with the resources and technology you have avaliable to you.
They were building the pyramids thousands of years back. And we continue to tall buildings even now.
Next after that, is that the construction will take place over decades. So it should reasonably be assumed they'll take advantage of some improvements along the way.
each barrel that they don't burn is one they can sell instead, and this is a situation that makes economic sense for them now, regardless of future tech improvements.
What are they going to do with all that electricity, especially given it is intermittent?
To me, the project sounds like a PR BS because it is too expensive and i can't see a use for it.
Saudi Arabia and all nations that rely on oil exports certainly have to be seeing the future a bit differently than the rest of the world, and so you have to take this into account when considering their plans. It's probably not particularly controversial to say that oil won't be nearly as valuable in 50 years. But when your GDP is being sustained by oil, that means you're living on borrowed time - and when it comes to completely reshaping your national economy and international role, 50 years suddenly is not such a long time.
I would imagine that they will build _some_ storage as well in the coming 12 years, or I will be very disappoint.
From what I understand the most energy-intensive part of desalination is pumping it to where people can actually use it.
50 persons/MW or 20kW/person sound a bit high at that scale. Even considering the sandstorms in the region.
Most PR-style announcements like this seems to simplify job-years to jobs.
There is also direct employment (# of people hired for the project itself, e.g. construction) vs indirect employment (# of people hired in supply chain) vs induced employment (# of people hired by associate economic impact, e.g. construction worker spends money earned on project in local community and supports retail) , all of which may be consolidated for a PR style announcement.
I think the scale of the project implies that this is going to be the power source for Neom† ( http://www.discoverneom.com/ ), the new sci-fi city the Suadis are planning to build in the north-west of their country bordering Jordan and with Egypt across the water. See here‡ for an in-depth critique of that project. (Side note: is it just me or has Bloomberg's journalism gotten insanely impressive of late?)
From the official blurb, “As the sun rises over NEOM, it will glint against vast fields of solar panels paired with wind turbines and light up enormous stretches of energy grids storing power for generations.” I guess we could call this MOU, “Neom-Solar”, part of the energy solution for powering Neom and beyond.
One has to remember that the Saudi's sovereign wealth fund has something like $2T, that's T for trillion, so a joint $200B joint punt is well within their reach. And especially if they intend to diversify away from fossil fuels for power-gen and desalination.
I guess we should applaud them because if the effects of climate change are potentially as bad as scientists claim they are the world needs a number of mega-projects like this to push the carbon needle firmly in the other direction.
Note as well that since that Bloomberg article was written in October 2017 a number of the restrictions mentioned in the article as compared to Dubai have been lifted–notably women can drive from the summer onwards and do not have to wear an abaya in public so long as their dress is "decent and respectful"§. Perhaps more reforms are coming down the pipe? It's often been rumoured that the Saudi royalty and other wealthy individuals lead much more liberal lifestyles abroad (and even at home some say) than the laws of their own country would lead one to believe.
I believe it is true that historically the Saudi royalty built their strength by allying themselves with the fundamentalist Wahabi clerical sect. Perhaps the Kingdom realises that they may have to partly sabotage that relationship in order to make their country more attractive to outside investment and in order to compete with their more liberal next door neighbours. And perhaps it is the subjects themselves in the kingdom who are agitating for some reforms. Anyway, it'd be nice in the future not to have to listen to jibes about how draconian the kingdom is on the religious front whenever some article about their progress in other areas is published.
† discussion five months ago here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15543404