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Saudi teams up with Iceland to explore its geothermal potential

Taqa Geothermal agreement Taqa Geothermal
Taqa Geothermal Energy will explore and develop geothermal resources in Saudi Arabia and the wider Mena region
  • Reykjavik Geothermal and Saudi’s Taqa have launched the new venture
  • The Arabian Shield hosts 580,000 sq km of geothermal reserves
  • Geothermal will play a ‘critical role’ in cleaner energy transition

Iceland is helping Saudi Arabia to explore its geothermal power resources as the kingdom accelerates its transition away from hydrocarbons.

The Saudi Industrialisation and Energy Services Company (also known as Taqa) and Reykjavik Geothermal have signed a joint venture agreement to establish Taqa Geothermal Energy, headquartered in Riyadh.

The deal comes as research shows that Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, is rich in geothermal resources.

Taqa Geothermal Energy will explore and develop geothermal resources in Saudi Arabia and the wider Mena region.

Geothermal energy reservoirs in the Arabian Shield region – an exposure of Precambrian crystalline rocks on the flanks of the Red Sea – are thought to span 580,000 sq km. They include the volcanic field known as Al-Harrat and the areas north of Hail city and east of Najd plateau.

Geothermal energy harnesses the heat generated within the Earth’s core to provide a constant energy source, unlike solar or wind which are intermittent in nature.

Khalid Nouh, group CEO of Taqa, said Taqa Geothermal Energy is mandated to explore and develop the equivalent of 1 gw of geothermal power from resources in the kingdom.

Taqa is majority owned by Saudi’s Public Investment Fund. It previously created the Taqa Geothermal Centre of Excellence in Turkey, to share knowledge and work closely with universities, and research institutes to work with the Ministry of Energy. 

Iceland is an obvious partner for the latest project. Its geothermal electricity generation has increased significantly in recent years and currently accounts for 25 percent of the country’s total production and 66 percent of Iceland’s primary energy use.

Over the 20th century Iceland went from being one of Europe’s poorest countries, dependent upon peat and imported coal for its energy, to a nation where nearly all energy is derived from renewable resources.

Godmundur Thoroddsson, chairman of Reykjavik Geothermal, said his team was a “long-time believer” in Saudi Arabia’s geothermal potential of the kingdom.

“We first started exploring the local resources in 2009,” he said. “Our new joint venture aims to develop to large-scale direct use of geothermal cooling and desalination projects.”

The Blue Lagoon geothermal energy plant in Iceland
Iceland’s expertise in geothermal energy is evident at the Blue Lagoon. Image: Unsplash/Sam Bark

In January, the Saudi Geological Survey signed a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Ministry of Energy to explore geothermal energy sources.

Many Saudi universities and research centres have conducted studies on geothermal energy in the country but it has yet to serve as a bridge between academia and industry to turn these studies into economically feasible projects.

In December, Dr Hussein Holteit, associate professor at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, said it has initiated work to get licences and permissions to drill experimental geothermal wells within its facilities.

Modest growth

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), geothermal energy will play a “critical role” in the global clean energy transition alongside other renewable energy sources. 

Electricity generation from geothermal energy has grown at a modest rate of around 3.5 percent annually, reaching a total installed capacity of about 16 gw in 2021. It accounts for just 0.5 percent of renewables-based installed capacity for electricity generation, heating and cooling.

In the Middle East and Africa, installed capacity stands at 978 mw, which accounts for about 5 percent of the global total, with Kenya leading the way.

Beyond the East African Rift sub-region, Iran is the only other location in the region with near-term potential, with plans for the Meshkinshahr geothermal field.

Oman recently initiated a project to assess the country’s geothermal potential using data from over 7,000 oil, gas and water wells.

Irena experts said in a recent report that geothermal applications across Mena include fish farming, greenhouses, agricultural drying, irrigation and heat pumps.

It added that some countries in the Middle East are considering geothermal energy for cooling systems in buildings. 

In the UAE, the National Central Cooling Company, better known as Tabreed, won the concession of the Masdar City cooling system and is exploring the possibility of using two geothermal wells.

And in Jordan, Mena Geothermal constructed a geothermal heating and cooling system at the American University of Madaba.

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