Abu Dhabi: Saudi Arabia is eyeing geothermal power — that is, harvesting steam from the earth's bossom, usually from volcanic vents — as part of its strategic energy plan that also includes massive use of solar energy and wind farms, a senior official told a conference here.
Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al Falih, speaking at the on-going World Future Energy Summit in the UAE capital, said that his country will generate a total of 10 gigawatts from a combination of solar, wind and geothermal power projects to be installed by 2023.
Al Falih, also the Chairman of Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Aramco), has said Riyadh is set to start soon the first round of bidding for up to $50 billion worth of renewable energy projects for the fresh energy projects.
This doesn’t come as a surprise: There are at least 10 known hot springs in Saudi Arabia. Recent studies show potential geothermal sites in Al Khouba area, in the southerwestern province of Jizan, for example.
Saudi authorities are encouraging and supporting not only research in the area but earmarking also huge investments in renewables.
Abu Dhabi, the home of International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), is hosting the week-long conference international summit on renewables.
Al Falih highlighted during the conference Saudi Arabia’s rich geothermal resources, which are located mainly in the country's western region.
Geothermal energy is considered a renewable source of power.
In Saudi's case, its geothermal resources are related to the general tectonic activity of the Red Sea and associated with a series of volcanic rocks and ridges.
The Jizan area is considered as a promising geothermal system that includes a number of structural-related hot springs.
Analysis of available satellite images, geo-indicators and performing 2D electric geophysical survey had given experts a clue on Saudi Arabia’s geothermal reserve potential for possible energy production.
One study revealed the presence of many good geothermal “anomalies” in Jizan province, of which Al Khouba geothermal resource is considered the most important.
Researchers found good surface petro-thermal properties (high temperature, up to 78 °C and good flow rate) and subsurface characteristics — good vertical and lateral extensions — as well as potential thermal properties in these sites.
A good geothermal potential of 17.847 MWt is estimated for Al Khouba hot spring, providing a reservoir area of 1.125 km3.
Saudi geothermal power potential
Studies on geothermal resources exploration started in 1980 in Saudi Arabia.
In the Western region near Jeddah and Makkah, there are large volcanic areas — known as "harrats", which are formed by volcanic activity. The volcanic eruptions of harrat near Madina area, for example, are recorded in the year 1256 AD.
Experts have seen at least six thermal springs in Jizan and four in Al-Lith area and temperatures at some of these locations found to be around 120°C.
In Saudi’s north-west region, there are other volcanic regions like Harrat Al Shamah, Harrat Al Raha and Harrat Uwayrid near Tabuk, and Harrat Ithnayn.
The volcanoes by the side of the expressway from Jeddah-Makkah to Madinah have basaltic lava-field chain up to 600km long — called the Makkah-Madinah-Nafud volcanic line.
Between Makkah and Madinah, the Harrat Rahat lava-field is spread over an area of 20,000 squake kilometres — where some 36 shield volcanoes and 24 domes are found.
Between Madinah and the Great Nafud are the coalesced harrats Khaybar, Ithnayn and Kura with an area of 20,560 square km.