Riyadh to sustain power spending

12 March 2024

Latest news on Saudi Arabia’s power sector:

Neom to start qualification for $2.7bn hydropower scheme
Saudi power buyer holds Remah and Nairiyah meetings
Enowa gives extra day for Gayal and Shiqri bidders

Gayal and Shiqri bidders race to meet deadlines
Neom extends Duba Energy Park bid deadline
Data centre activity soars in Saudi Arabia
US firm wins Al Kahfah solar tracker package
> Saudi-Omani team to set up transformers plant


The project pipeline in Saudi Arabia’s power generation sector continues to expand unabated.

The value of projects in execution or about to start construction has increased by 17% to $34bn compared to six months earlier, according to the latest available data from regional projects tracker MEED Projects.

The value of projects in the pre-execution phase similarly increased by 16% to reach $51bn during the same period. New schemes are expected to be announced in the coming 12-18 months, including power generation projects catering to the $500bn Neom development.

Two key factors underpin the ramp-up of both conventional and renewable energy generation capacity in the kingdom, notes a Dubai-based senior executive with an international developer.

“Saudi Arabia intends to become the renewable supplier of choice on the GCC grid,” the executive said, referring to the regional network linking the electricity grids of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

The second factor is the kingdom's push for industrialisation and urbanisation, including the adoption of electric vehicles and data centres.

“Saudi Arabia has very strong regulations to keep data within its domicile and the digitalisation needed to achieve the kingdom’s modernisation plans needs large data centres and corresponding electricity supply,” she notes.

Overall, Saudi Arabia awarded power generation contracts worth more than $16.1bn in 2023, which is higher than the total value of contracts awarded in the preceding eight years and nearly six times the value of contracts awarded in 2022.

The kingdom’s principal buyer, Saudi Power Procurement Company (SPPC) and its sovereign wealth vehicle, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), awarded the bulk of these contracts.

Shrinking renewables share

The share of renewable energy in the total value of awarded contracts shrunk to 28%, from about 82% in 2022, due to the award last year of the first gas-fired independent power producer (IPP) projects since 2016.

SPPC awarded a consortium comprising Saudi Electricity Company and Saudi utility developer Acwa Power the $3.9bn contract to develop and operate the Qassim 1 and Taiba 1 IPP projects in November 2023. Each combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plant has a capacity of 1,800MW.

A team comprising the local Al Jomaih Energy & Water, France’s EDF and the local Buhur for Investment won the contract to develop the other pair of CCGT-based plants – the Taiba 2 IPP and Qassim 2 IPP schemes, each of which has a capacity of 1,800MW.

SPPC also awarded the contracts for the solar photovoltaic (PV) schemes under the fourth procurement round of the kingdom’s National Renewable Energy Programme (NREP).

A consortium that includes France's EDF Renewables, Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) and the local company Nesma won the contract to develop the 1,100MW Hinakiyah solar IPP project. A consortium led by China's Jinko Power won the contract to develop and maintain the 400MW Tubarjal solar IPP scheme.

The PIF, meanwhile, awarded contracts last year for the development of three solar PV schemes with a total combined capacity of 4.5GW to Acwa Power and its partner Water & Electricity Holding Company (Badeel). The 2GW Al Rass 2, 1.1GW Saad 2 and 1.4GW Al Kahfah solar PV IPPs require a total investment of about $3.4bn.

Unawarded projects

Following the award of these contracts, SPPC started the procurement process for four solar PV schemes with a total combined capacity of 3.7GW under the NREP fifth round, and four new CCGT schemes with a total combined capacity of 7.2GW.

Bids are due on 10 June for the 2GW Al Sadawi, 1GW Al Mas, 400MW Hinakiyah 2 and 300MW Rabigh 2 solar PV IPP schemes.

Bids are also due in late June for the Remah 1 and 2 and Al Nairiyah 1 and 2 gas-fired CCGTs.

As of early March, Neom’s utility subsidiary, Enowa, had received bids for two renewable energy engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contracts, the 1.2GW Gayal wind farm and 800MW Shiqri solar farm.

Enowa is understood to be preparing a site for two CCGT plants to be built on a fast-track basis at Duba Energy Park. The first phase comprises a transportable gas turbine generator (GTG) with a capacity of 300MW, which is designed to deliver emergency power to Neom.

The second phase is a permanently installed 500MW facility comprising heavy-duty GTGs. Both are considered fast-track projects, with the first phase due for completion in early 2024 and the second phase in early 2025.

The first phase of a multi-gigawatt programme to build renewable energy capacity in Neom using a public-private partnership model is also expected to start soon.

Soaring costs

The raft of new projects coming to the pipeline is exerting pressure, particularly for the CCGT supply chain, experts tell MEED. “On average, the EPC prices have more than doubled since before the Covid-19 pandemic began,” says an executive working for an original equipment manufacturer (OEM).

The average EPC cost per kilowatt for CCGT plants with a capacity of over 1.5GW is understood to have reached approximately $750 a kilowatt in 2023, which is more than twice the average cost in 2019. EPC costs for smaller plants have similarly posted significant increases.

Industry sources say the turbine supply chain problem arises from the decision by some OEMs to reduce capacity over the past few years, driven by a combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and the threat of curtailed demand due to the push to decarbonise electricity systems.

The post-Covid-19 recovery, as well as the resurgence of demand for gas-fired power plants in the Middle East – and even in some countries in Europe – along with the expressed preference by most GCC clients for European-made gas turbines, has resulted in a seller’s market.

A Dubai-based OEM executive told MEED last year that its EU-made turbines are booked for several years, but order deliveries can still be shuffled between customers, so they do not expect major delays in delivering to clients. "It's definitely a seller's market right now for turbines. We have capacity in other regions like China, but customers prefer [turbines made in] EU factories”.

In comparison, the jury is still out on solar PV costs, although historical tariff data indicates a general upward trend between the record-low tariffs seen in 2021 and those submitted last year.

Transmission and distribution

Transmission and distribution (T&D) contracts exceeding a total of $12bn are under execution in Saudi Arabia, with an estimated $22.4bn in the pre-execution phase.

The value of contracts awarded in 2023, which sits at $4bn, exceeded the previous year’s total by 41%. The contract to build a high-voltage, direct current transmission system between Neom’s Oxagon industrial cluster and Yanbu is the largest T&D contract to have been awarded last year.

Volume-wise, 59 T&D contracts were awarded in Saudi Arabia last year compared to 64 in 2022.

Saudi Arabia has been gradually expanding the reach of its grid, both domestically – due to the development of new communities and industries and the growth of renewable energy capacity – as well as internationally.

Projects to link with Egypt and other countries in the GCC, as well as with Iraq and Jordan, are under way, while preliminary studies are ongoing to link the kingdom’s power grid further afield, including to the grids of India and Greece.

Energy storage and nuclear

A new project activity segment within Saudi Arabia’s power sector is emerging. SPPC intends to start the procurement process this year for the 2GW first phase of a project to procure 10GW of battery energy storage system (bess) capacity by 2030.

Bess comprises rechargeable batteries that can store and discharge energy from various sources when needed.

Saudi Arabia plans to locate its bess facilities near demand centres to boost the electricity grid's spinning reserves as more renewable energy is expected to enter its electricity production mix.

The 2GW first phase of the project entails building several plants at different locations, with individual capacities ranging from 50MW to 300MW each. 

Finally, the procurement process is moving – albeit slowly – on the Duwaiheen nuclear power plant, Saudi Arabia’s first large-scale nuclear power project. Bids for the main contract are due in late April, following several deadline extensions since the kingdom invited selected companies to bid for the contract in 2022.

Jennifer Aguinaldo
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