Saudi Arabia reinvigorates power sector

7 March 2023


Recent developments indicate that Saudi Arabia is more determined than ever to continue pursuing a multi-pronged energy diversification approach.

Between December 2022 and early March, the kingdom received bids for the contract to build its first nuclear power plant project; issued the tender for the development of 7,200MW of combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) independent power producer (IPP) schemes; and appointed a consultant to assess three solar parks with a potential capacity of 30GW.

The rush of new projects contrasts with the sector’s lacklustre performance in 2016-21, when the cumulative value of contracts awarded totalled a mere $5.5bn, reaching a record low of $55m in 2017.

The new-found momentum began last year, with $8.1bn-worth of contracts awarded, the highest over the 10-year period starting in 2013.

Last year’s contract awards include the estimated $4bn contract for the renewable energy and battery storage facility catering to the Neom green hydrogen project. Contracts for the 1.2GW third round of the kingdom’s National Renewable Energy Programme (NREP) and the Public Investment Fund's (PIF) 2.06GW Shuaibah 2 solar photovoltaic (PV) project were also awarded.

This has taken the overall capacity of solar projects under construction in Saudi Arabia to roughly 6,230MW, excluding the captive facility catering to the Neom green hydrogen project – a remarkable feat given that the kingdom has significantly lagged behind its renewable energy targets.  

As of last year, the kingdom only has an estimated 842MW of renewable energy installed capacity, mainly from the 300MW Sakaka solar PV facility and 400MW Dumat al-Jandal wind farm.

This equates to just 3 per cent of its initial national goal to install 27.3GW of renewable energy capacity by 2024 and 1.4 per cent of its 2030 goal of 58.7GW.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine has affected the delivery of most of the projects, according to a Saudi-based expert, due to disrupted supply chains and global inflation.

“The Covid-19 pandemic affected projects not just in Saudi Arabia, but everywhere in the world,” he says.

Other experts insist that the kingdom needs to make an unprecedented adjustment to meet its ambitious 2030 target.

In response, state offtaker Saudi Power Procurement Company (SPPC) launched the procurement process last year for NREP’s fourth round. 

Phase four comprises two solar PV IPP schemes with a total combined capacity of 1.5GW and three wind IPPs with a total combined capacity of 1.8GW. Bids for these contracts are due by April and May this year, respectively.

In early March, Germany-based ILF Consulting Engineers (ICE) also announced that it had been selected to undertake the pre-development studies for three solar PV parks in Saudi Arabia with a potential combined capacity of 30GW, the largest of its kind ever planned in the region, if not globally.

The locations and procurement timeline for the projects have not yet been announced, but the tendering process will most likely commence once the initial studies are complete, according to a source familiar with the projects.

Going nuclear

Saudi Arabia’s Finance Ministry’s disclosure that it received bids in late December last year for the contract to build the kingdom’s first nuclear power plant has also significantly raised the power generation sector’s momentum.

The entire project’s budget of roughly $33.5bn, as estimated by MEED Projects, accounts for over a third of the total value of planned and unawarded power generation projects across the kingdom.

The potential award of the nuclear power project – the initial phase of which is understood to be 2.8GW – is not expected to slow down the pace of contract awards for other power generation assets.

As previously stated, the kingdom’s energy diversification programme expects clean and renewable energy to account for half – up from roughly 1 per cent today – of its electricity production mix by 2030.

The long lead time to construct and develop a nuclear power plant could also mean the first reactor is not likely to be ready by the end of the decade.

While the kingdom has not disclosed the list of companies bidding for the project, there is mounting speculation that at least three companies, including Russia’s Rosatom, China National Nuclear Corporation and South Korea’s Kepco, may have submitted a proposal to develop the facility.

RELATED READ: Saudi nuclear move has geopolitical significance

Unlike the solar and wind energy projects, the results of the nuclear energy bids are expected to be announced only by the highest level of leadership within the kingdom due to the strategic and geopolitical importance of nuclear power.

Ramping up gas

In January, SPPC retendered contracts to develop its next gas-fired IPP projects. Initially comprising two projects, each with a capacity of 3.6GW, the Taiba and Al-Qassim IPPs were each split into two 1.8GW schemes, with bids for the four contracts due by mid-2023.

These are the first gas-fired power generation plants to be procured since 2016, when Saudi Arabia awarded the 1,500MW Fadhili IPP to a consortium led by France’s Engie.

Before the retender, SPPC received only a single bid for the 3.6GW Taiba IPP. Wary of net-zero carbon emission targets, many international utility developers declined to bid for the package citing insufficient decarbonisation provisions.

Despite this setback, SPPC sought consultants last year for the transaction advisory contract for its next round of CCGT projects, which will be developed using a build-own-operate model.

The two projects, to be located in Riyadh and Al-Khafji, will each have a design capacity of 3,600MW.

“It is a moving target,” a senior official with a utility developer said about the kingdom’s energy diversification goal.

Various official sources suggest that the country’s current installed power generation capacity stands at 80-90GW, with little to no publicly available figures in terms of the capacity forecast by 2030.

The original target to install 57.8GW of renewable energy capacity by the end of the decade vis-à-vis a goal for renewable energy to account for 50 per cent of the total implies that the 2030 figure could be around 110-120GW.

Keeping this in mind, and the need to retire ageing fossil fuel-fired fleets during the intervening period, appears to justify the need for the kingdom to build more gas-fired power plants while pursuing significant renewable and nuclear capacity.

In terms of attracting more bidders for its current and future CCGT schemes, much will depend on how SPPC and the Energy Ministry address developers’ concerns regarding measures to minimise carbon footprint at the same time as ensuring the assets’ long-term economic feasibility.
Jennifer Aguinaldo
Related Articles
  • Sports Boulevard to seek construction partner for iconic buildings

    6 June 2023

    Saudi Arabia’s Sports Boulevard Foundation plans to work with contractors on a collaborative basis for the iconic buildings that are part of the world’s longest park stretching across the centre of Riyadh.

    “There are still many infrastructure and iconic building projects in the design stage, and we will be seeking great construction partners to join us on a collaborative basis on this great journey,” said Tony Aikenhead, chief development officer, Sports Boulevard Foundation at MEED’s Saudi Giga Projects conference in Riyadh on 5 June.

    Iconic destinations planned for the development include the Sands Sports Park, Amphitheatres, the Centre for Cinematic Arts, the Arts District, the Discovery Park, Wadi Ajyasen, and the Global Sports Tower.

    The large-scale project aims to turn the cityscape of central Riyadh, which today is dominated my major highways, into a recreational area. “It is truly a transformational project, which will become the world's longest park at over 135 kilometres in length and help to deliver on the objectives of Vision 2030. Sports Boulevard runs across Riyadh from east to west. That's where the complexity comes in because it's right through the centre of Riyadh along the service corridor,” said Aikenhead.

    The project will be spread across different districts within the park. “The Boulevard will be split into street districts to maximise the unique features and attractions that the city has to offer. Each district will deliver a different destination and a different array of opportunities for residents and visitors alike. We are making good early progress in the delivery of these districts. Construction has already begun in the Wadi Hanifa district on the site of the bridge, the arts district, and the promenade. We have also started work on the Prince Turki and King Abdulaziz underpasses,’ said Aikenhead.
    Colin Foreman
  • Kuwait cancels oil financing tender

    6 June 2023

    Kuwait’s national oil company Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC) has cancelled its tender for a consultant to study financing options for the country’s state-owned oil and gas companies.

    In a statement published by KPC’s Higher Purchase Committee it said that the companies that purchased tender documents are eligible for a refund.

    The invitation to bid on the tender was issued on 18 December 2022.

    KPC did not give a reason for the cancellation of the tender.

    Kuwait has been looking to increase efficiency and restructure its state-owed oil and gas companies for several years.

    In 2020, a contract for a study to look into the restructuring was won by UK-based Strategy&, a subsidiary of the financial services company PwC.

    The plan was expected to cut costs and merge many of the state-controlled companies in the country’s oil, gas and petrochemicals sector.

    At the time, KPC said that the mergers would slash the number of large state-controlled companies in the sector from eight to four.

    In 2020, local reports said the Supreme Petroleum Council (SPC) and KPC had already approved plans to restructure the oil sector.

    It is thought that the restructuring could have significant benefits for KPC in the long term.

    A similar restructuring by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) helped to open the door for increased foreign investment in the UAE’s energy sector.

    After a sweeping restructuring, in December 2017 Adnoc listed 10 per cent of Adnoc Distribution, the largest operator of retail fuel service stations and convenience stores in the UAE. This raised $851m, making it the largest initial public offering in Abu Dhabi in a decade.

    In May 2022, KPC said that it was considering selling shares in its downstream subsidiary Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC), with the Higher Purchase Committee tendering a contract for a feasibility study regarding the potential “partial divestment of shares in KNPC”.

    At the time, the announcement about the potential share sale from the Higher Purchase Committee surprised many within Kuwait’s oil and gas sector.

    Despite Kuwait publicly discussing the restructuring of its oil and gas sector for several years, very little concrete progress has been made towards making the planned mergers.
    Wil Crisp
  • Region positions itself for sustainable future

    6 June 2023

    Colin Foreman

    At the end of November, the region will host the UN’s climate change conference for the second time in two years. Cop28 in the UAE, like Egypt’s Cop27 last year, will bring world leaders together to discuss energy transition and the fight against climate change.

    Arresting climate change will arguably be humankind’s greatest challenge over the coming decades. To succeed, people from all over the world will need to work with each other, which is why events like Cop28 that bring countries together are so important – despite the criticism they can attract. 

    At the project level, cooperation will also become an increasingly important trend.

    This year there are clear signs that governments are jointly working on projects that will contribute to the fight against climate change. 

    Some of the best examples are in the transmission and distribution sector. In recent months, significant steps have been taken across a range of interconnection projects to link countries’ electricity grids. 

    Efficiency is the main driver for these projects. Particularly for GCC nations, the capacity to obtain large-scale solar energy affordably, combined with the marked differences in peak energy demands between the colder and hotter months, frequently leads to considerable surplus capacity.

    Smoothing out these peaks and troughs as part of a larger regional or international grid also means less power generation is required and reduced carbon emissions.

    As the shared challenge of climate change rises up the global agenda, more projects that pool resources, share expertise, and transcend borders and politics will be needed. 

    From regional collaborations on electricity grid interconnections to international climate conferences, the region is positioning itself at the centre of a more collaborative and sustainable future.

    This package includes:

    > Region plans vital big grid connections
    > Soaring data demand drives boom
    > Read the June 2023 MEED Business Review

    Colin Foreman
  • Hospital boost for Jordan construction

    5 June 2023

    This package on Jordan's construction sector also includes:

    Egis selected for Jordan hospital project
    Jordan's largest construction project to move onsite
    Hill wins work on Saudi-backed hospital project in Jordan
    PIF to invest $24bn in six Mena countries


    Jordan’s construction sector will get a major boost this year as the country’s largest project prepares to move onsite over the summer after the first phase of its masterplan has been finalised.

    The $400m hospital project is being developed by the Saudi Jordanian Fund for Medical and Educational Investments Company (SJFMEI) on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis.

    For the hospital project, SJFMEI appointed US-based Hill International in partnership with the local sub-consultant Dar al-Omran to provide project construction management services last year. The project team is now preparing to tender construction contracts.

    “We have completed the first phase of the masterplan,” Said Mneimne, senior vice-president of Hill International, told MEED in an interview.

    “This summer, we will appoint a contractor for the enabling works. We will then appoint a contractor for the foundations and the structure,” he added.

    The scale of the project is a challenge for Jordan’s construction sector, and an international engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor may be needed to deliver the project.

    “We have not yet decided what the contracting strategy will be,” Mneimne said. 

    The project involves the construction of a university hospital with 330 beds, 72 outpatient clinics, a children’s hospital, and a medical school with a total capacity of 600 students and a projected annual intake of 100 students.

    The project also includes five medical centres of excellence focused on disciplines such as cardiology, oncology, neurology, gastroenterology and orthopaedics. There will also be four scientific research centres in genomics and precision medicine, stem cells and regenerative medicine, health systems and public health, and bioinformatics.

    The built-up area is estimated at 110,000 square metres. It will be located on the airport road, near the Ghamadan area on the outskirts of Amman.

    A joint venture of Lebanon’s Dar al-Handasah (Shair & Partners) and Perkins & Will was appointed for the engineering design and supervision services.

    SJFMEI is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Saudi Jordanian Investment Fund (SJIF). Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) owns 95 per cent of the fund, while Jordanian banks hold the remaining 5 per cent.

    Ownership of the project will be transferred to the Jordanian government after the end of the investment period.

    The hospital is the largest active standalone project in Jordan, according to regional projects tracker MEED Projects. The second-largest project is the estimated $228m King Hussein Bridge Terminal and Freight Yard project, which is at the prequalification stage.

    Disappointing decade

    Major projects are needed after a disappointing decade for Jordan’s construction sector. 

    Data from MEED Projects shows a fluctuating trend in the value of construction and transport contracts awarded in Jordan over the past 10 years.

    In 2013, the total value stood at $1.429bn. A sharp rise in 2014 to $2.475bn marked the peak of contract awards during the period.

    A steep fall was witnessed in the subsequent years, with the total value plunging to just $662m in 2015, a dramatic decrease of nearly 73 per cent from the previous year. This downward trajectory continued, with the value plummeting further to a record low of $79m in 2020 amid the global economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

    A closer look at the data indicates periods of minor recovery, notably in 2017, when contract awards rose to $866m, following a particularly poor performance in 2016 at just $159m.

    Despite these rebounds, the overall trend illustrates a declining construction and transport sector in Jordan, with the years 2021 and 2022 recording values of $32m and $86m, respectively, a stark contrast to the highs of 2013 and 2014.

    The fluctuating values in contract awards reveal the industry’s volatility over the past decade, linked to regional instability, economic downturns and global disruptions including the Covid-19 pandemic.
    Colin Foreman
  • Political deadlock in Lebanon blocks reforms

    5 June 2023


    Lebanon’s political deadlock is likely to continue to weigh on the country’s economy and undermine security over the medium term, according to experts.

    The country currently has an interim government and has been without a president since former President Michel Aoun’s term ended at the end of October last year.

    Progress towards forming a new government is likely to be slow, with the legislature divided over who should replace Aoun as president.

    In March, the Iran-backed Hezbollah group and House Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement party – which together constitute Lebanon’s Shia base – announced their support for the Christian politician Sleiman Frangieh.

    Hezbollah and its allies have since tried to gather support for Frangieh as president, but strong opposition from the majority of the country’s Christian, Sunni and Druze political blocs has left him short of the 65 votes required to be elected in the 128-member legislature.

    Over recent weeks, members of Lebanon’s parliament that oppose Frangieh have started to rally around the former finance minister Jihad Azour.

    Azour currently serves as the director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

    As the parliament is divided, whether either candidate can obtain a majority vote remains uncertain. According to experts, even if a president is named, it will be extremely difficult for them to form a government.

    Nicholas Blanford, a non-resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programmes, says it will likely be some time before a government is formed.

    “Getting a president elected is only the first step,” he said. “Once the new president is in place, there is the tricky task of forming a new government.

    “As we’ve seen over the past 20 years, forming a new government can take months as people bicker and jostle for various lucrative and influential portfolios.”

    Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, said on 31 May, during a Senate committee hearing, that the Biden administration was considering sanctions if a new president is not elected soon

    Outside pressure

    Only when a government has been formed will Lebanon be able to start initiating the series of reforms that the international community has demanded to unlock aid, grants and loans to try to put the country on the path to economic recovery.

    As Lebanon’s economic crisis has worsened and the security situation has declined, increasing pressure has been applied from other countries that want to try to restore stability in the region.

    Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, said on 31 May, during a Senate committee hearing, that the Biden administration was considering sanctions if a new president is not elected soon.

    Separately, two members of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee called on the administration to impose sanctions on individuals involved in corruption to “make clear to Lebanon’s political class that the status quo is not acceptable”.

    In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on 30 May, they said: “We also call on the administration to continue pressing for full accountability for the August 2020 Beirut port blast and support independent, international investigatory efforts into egregious fraud and malfeasance by the governor of Lebanon’s central bank.

    They added: “We must not allow Lebanon to be held hostage by those looking to advance their own selfish interests.”

    French crackdown

    French officials have also taken action to try to crack down on perceived corruption by members of Lebanon’s political elite.

    In May, French prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Lebanon’s central bank governor, Riad Salameh.

    The warrant followed Salameh’s failure to appear before French prosecutors to be questioned on corruption charges.

    In response, Salameh issued a statement saying that the arrest warrant violated the law.

    Salameh has been the target of a series of judicial investigations at home and abroad on allegations that include fraud, money laundering and illicit enrichment.

    European investigators looking into the fortune he has amassed during three decades in the job had scheduled a hearing in Paris for 16 May.

    A key problem is you still have the same cabal of oligarchs in power and it is likely they will still be represented in the next government
    Nicholas Blanford, Atlantic Council’s Middle East programmes

    Breaking the deadlock

    Analysts believe cracking down on corruption among Lebanon’s political elite is key to breaking the country’s political deadlock.

    “A key problem is that you still have the same cabal of oligarchs in power and it is likely that they will still be represented in the next government,” said Blanford. “These oligarchs do not want reform because if they implement a meaningful reform process, they run the risk of losing their positions of power.”

    While the country’s opposing political blocs continue to vie for power and the formation of a new government seemingly remains only possible after at least several months of negotiations, the outlook for Lebanon in the short term looks bleak.

    Meaningful government assistance for Lebanese citizens struggling with declining security and heightened economic pressures remains a distant prospect. High levels of emigration are also likely to continue as the country’s population seeks relief from the hardships at home.
    Wil Crisp