Saudi Solar Energy: Giving Oil A Run For Its Money

RIYADH — If there’s one thing Saudi Arabia is known for it is oil.

But Omar Alluhaydan would like his country to become famous for something else it has plenty of — sunlight. The 27-year-old founder of Green Technology, the first solar panel maker in the kingdom, is convinced that he can help Saudi Arabia dramatically reduce its dependence on oil by investing in renewable energy.

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“Not only the West can do it — we can do it here too,” he told NBC News from his office in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. “If a country and nation became environmentally friendly and the sustainability of humanity became much better, this is how we are going to save our world.”

So far Alluhaydan’s company — also known as GTek — is relatively small, employing around 50 people. And most Saudis don’t even know there is a “thing called solar energy,” he admits. The sector is heavily subsidized, as it is in much of the world. Still, he’s thinking big. With an average of 16 hours of sunlight a day, Saudi Arabia is a perfect candidate for widespread use of solar power, said Alluhaydan. He aims for GTek to have a turnover of around $250 million by the end of 2017.

Alluhaydan’s plans come amid a much bigger shake-up going on in the kingdom, one that seeks to transform the country’s economy by slashing its reliance on oil. At the moment petroleum makes up around 80 percent of the government’s budget revenues and accounts for around 45 percent of its GDP.

According to Saudi Vision 2030, an ambitious road map for transformation being driven by the country’s young and outspoken deputy crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, energy consumption is expected to grow threefold in the coming years but “we still lack a competitive renewable energy sector.”

That’s where Alluhaydan steps in. He is second on Forbes Middle East’s list of entrepreneurs “shaping” the country’s future. He is also a featured speaker at this week’s MiSK Global Forum, a first-of-its-kind gathering of entrepreneurs and business leaders from the region and around being held in Riyadh Tuesday and Wednesday.

Alluhaydan is also part of the wave of young people the government is placing enormous hope in. He was among some 150,000 young men and women that government has sent abroad to study in the past decade. And like many of his compatriots who studied abroad, Alluhaydan brought something back from his travels.

“I’ll tell you something I’ve seen in my life. In Australia I remember they produce electricity for 2,000 houses from the waste. How good is that?” he said. “I’ve seen it — this is a great thing.”

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