Saudi pilot project indicates viability of solar-powered farm irrigation

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U.S. solar-panel company First Solar and Al Watania Agricultural Company recently completed a pilot project to evaluate the use of solar energy to power farm-irrigation systems.

The project tested the use of solar-powered groundwater pumping and distribution on a 6.3 acre test plot at Al Watania Organic Farm in Saudi Arabia's Al Jouf region, using a 684-kilowatt solar plant powered by First Solar's thin film photovolatic modules.

The farm covers over 120 square miles and normally relies on 150 wells and conventional fuel to provide its water needs. It is the largest producer of organic produce in Saudi Arabia. Project leaders said the PV system installed by First Solar has the capacity to eliminate one diesel generator that would normally use over 165,000 gallons of diesel fuel each year.

"We are proud to partner with First Solar on this exciting new project, which will not only help reduce our carbon footprint, but will also allow us to explore the potential for solar to reliably support our energy needs," Al Watania Agriculture CEO Ibrahim Aboabat said. "Al Watania Organic was born from our founder, Sheikh Sulaiman Abdulaziz Al Rajhi's vision of agricultural products being sustainably farmed right here in Saudi Arabia. Implementing the use of solar electricity will help further that vision and will allow us to move toward our goal of becoming the region's first truly sustainable large-scale agricultural operation."

First Solar officials described the project as a common-sense, forward-thinking plan that takes advantage of the region's natural advantages to supply industrial-level power.

"This project is an excellent example of the scalability and flexibility that solar PV offers," First Solar Vice President for Business in the Middle East Raed Bkayrat said. "Easy-to-deploy and able to address very specific needs, innovative solar-powered solutions can address a wide range of energy challenges, as this pilot facility demonstrates. Sunlight is the region's most abundant energy resource, and the Al Watania Agriculture Company should be applauded for having the vision to sustainably harness affordable and reliable solar electricity to address its energy needs."

First Solar is the Middle East's largest provider of photovoltaic modules and systems, designed from inception through recycling. The company's projects account for over 10 gigawatts of energy production worldwide, including several of the world's largest grid-connected photovolatic systems.

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