Saudi Agriculture Industry Eyes Solar-diesel Hybrids

SAUDI ARABIA - Solar-diesel hybrid solutions may hold the answer to reducing fuel costs and increasing energy security for Saudi Arabia's agricultural sector.
calendar icon 23 September 2014
clock icon 4 minute read

The poultry industry, in particular, could benefit from hybridizing diesel generators with solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, as attendees discussed at a recently held roundtable in Riyadh.

"Hybrid solar-diesel systems are a viable solution to provide power to Saudi Arabia's poultry producers, many of which are not connected to the national electric grid. Such solutions can help reduce the industry's heavy reliance on diesel fuel," highlighted Abdulmohsen Al Shoaibi, managing partner of DarSolar.

Al Shoaibi was addressing the "Sustainable Agriculture: A Solar Solution" roundtable, which was organized by the Saudi Arabia Solar Industry Association (SASIA) this week.

As a result of the heavy dependence on diesel fuel, Saudi poultry companies are incurring notably higher energy costs than Brazilian producers, who accounted for nearly 79 per cent of the Kingdom's poultry import in 2012.

"At present, domestic poultry production accounts for only 40-45 per cent of the Saudi market. However, the share is expected to increase to 60-65 per cent in the next 5-10 years, due to massive investments in additional production capacities planned by the top Saudi producers. These expansions will drive further pressure on the demand for diesel fuel," noted Browning Rockwell, executive director of SASIA.

"Hybrid solar-diesel systems can help local poultry producers remain competitive against imports, by ensuring an affordable and reliable source of power to cool their poultry houses," he added.

Dar Solar, a Saudi-owned company that assists solar engineering companies to become established in the Kingdom and the MENA region, is currently examining a solar-hybrid solution for a hatchery that consumes 900,000 litres of diesel annually through four generators.

"Given the intermittent nature of solar PV, the existing onsite generation, and the need for continuous power, Dar Solar is evaluating a solar hybrid solution that will likely include the combination of existing generators and PV panels - and potentially, battery storage if needed," highlighted Al Shoaibi.

According to Imtiaz Mahtab, executive vice president of Air Liquide MENA Electronics and board member of SASIA, diesel fuel in Saudi Arabia is heavily subsidized and is sold at 10-15 per cent of the current market rates, thus, it would be uneconomic to run diesel generators as the prime source of electricity for the site.

"It's not just fuel savings that would matter going forward; it will also have to deal with the reliability of supply chain. As diesel supply in Saudi Arabia is drying up, hatcheries and poultry firms may not have much choice but to rely on alternative energy sources such as solar PV for their off grid locations," said Mahtab.

"Thus, the choice of economics going forward are expected to shift from just fuel savings towards more reliable operation of poultry firms. It is imperative that poultry producers consider this crucial aspect in their business plan and integrate hybrid designs at their current or future firms," he added.

Meanwhile, Juan Carrasco, president of GPTech, presented his company's PV-diesel hybrid solutions, highlighting the Energy Management System that manages and stabilizes output performance.

"So far, industrial facilities work with diesel solutions. Although they are a stable source of energy, they present limitations in the signal quality as well as higher generation costs. The combination of diesel and solar would provide larger stability and autonomy to such facilities, both for isolated solutions and those connected to the grid."

The roundtable saw attendants from a number of local and foreign establishments, including environmental technical consultancy Altermia Asesores Técnicos, as well as Al Fakieh Poultry, Al Watania Poultry, National Centre of Palm and Dates, and IYA Investment.

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