Showa Shell, Saudi Electricity start Saudi solar plant

Pilot plant located on Farasan island is expected to produce 500-kW power, official says

Japan's Showa Shell Sekiyu KK and Saudi Electricity Co (SEC) have started a 500-kilowatt (kW) solar power plant in Saudi Arabia, an executive at the Saudi state utility said Monday.

The pilot plant, located on Farasan island, southwest Saudi Arabia, is expected to reach full capacity later this month, Amer Al Swaha, head of Independent Power Producer (IPP) projects at SEC, said.

"250 kW is operational and the other half will start this month," Swaha said. "The power load in the island is more than 25 megawatts (MW). This (project) is modest but it is only a start and we will evaluate it to see whether to expand."

Saudi Arabia, one of the world's biggest crude oil exporters, hopes to reduce its use of fossil fuels that it would rather export by building nuclear and renewable power plants. The Farasan project should reduce diesel burning for power generation on the island.

"These projects need (government support), with the support we can expand," Swaha added. "With the land we have we can expand the plant to 7 MW."

Under the agreement, Showa Shell will own the project for up to 15 years, after which the assets will be transferred to SEC. Royal Dutch Shell owns one-third of Showa Shell, while Saudi Aramco holds about 15 percent.

In 2009, Aramco And Showa Shell signed an agreement to build small-scale pilot solar-power facilities in the kingdom.

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