Mecca Seeks to Lead Saudi Arabia’s Solar Energy Expansion

Mecca, which hosts millions of pilgrims a year visiting Islam’s most holy shrine, is working toward becoming the first city in Saudi Arabia to operate a utility-scale plant generating electricity from renewables.

The city plans to build and operate facilities producing 385 gigawatt-hours per year of power including 100 megawatts of solar capacity.

The plans are the latest indication that the desert kingdom is stepping up efforts to diversify its sources of energy as economic and population growth threaten to erode Saudi Arabia’s status as the world’s biggest oil exporter.

The central government is seeking $109 billion of investment for building a solar industry, aiming to get a third of Saudi Arabia’s power from the sun by 2032 compared with almost none now. The target is almost as much as the $136 billion invested worldwide in solar energy last year.

Mecca’s program complements that work and may provide a guide for other Middle Eastern cities on how to adopt the technology, said Adnan Amin, director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency.

“The project is very visionary as Mecca has special significance around the world,” Amin, from the Abu Dhabi-based industry organization, “The case is very simple. In 25 years, Saudi Arabia could become net importers of energy. That makes renewables comparatively cheaper.”