Saudi Electricity Company’s (SEC’s) invitation for companies to express interest in its first major standalone renewables projects has finally kick-started Saudi Arabia’s long-awaited alternative energy programme. The start of the procurement process for two photovoltaic (PV) solar projects preceded the announcement that the kingdom is targeting for 3.5GW of renewable energy to be online by 2020.

While the 50MW capacity of the country’s first two schemes is small in comparison with the 800MW third phase of Dubai’s solar park and the 350MW PV scheme planned in Abu Dhabi, the projects mark a milestone in the region’s renewable energy ambitions.

Saudi Arabia is in a much different position than when it launched its ill-fated 54GW renewables programme in 2012, under the auspices of the King Abdullah City for Atomic & Renewable Energy (KA-Care). With the price of oil having plummeted from more than $100 a barrel to the current $50, Riyadh has been forced to restructure its economy and establish new models and strategies for developing its infrastructure. Part of this has entailed setting more realistic targets of 9.5GW of renewable energy by 2030, and 3.5GW by 2020.

While the targets have been significantly reduced, if delivered they will still offer the most lucrative opportunities in the region’s renewable energy sector up to 2030. Saudi Arabia has long been seen as the key part of a sustainable supply chain for renewable energy in the Middle East, and developers, technology providers and contractors will be hopeful its first schemes are tendered and executed as swiftly as possible.