Solar Water Heater, Princess Noura bint AbdulRahman University, Saudi Arabia

Princess Noura bint AbdulRahman (PNBAR) University will be the first green building campus in Saudi Arabia to use the world's largest district solar water heater. Located on King Khalid International Airport Road, north of Riyadh, the university is the kingdom's flagship project and the district solar water heater is part of this $11bn project. The plant will have an installed capacity of 17MW, providing sufficient hot water for all 40,000 students in the 8km² campus.

The power plant contract was awarded to Millennium Energy Industries in January 2010 by a joint venture (JV) of El-Seif Contracting and Consolidated Contracting Company (CCC). The JV is responsible for the infrastructure works of the university project. The design supervisors for the plant are Dar Al Handaseh. The solar power plant will be put into testing phase by the end of 2010, while construction of the university is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2011.

PNBAR University is also implementing ABB's KNX system in the building to automatically control the lighting and shading through a single interface system. The KNX building control system will result in 40% energy savings. It will also save 52 million litres of fuel oil (125 million kg of carbon dioxide) annually.

"PNBAR will feature the world's largest solar water heater."

PNBAR is the world's largest university for women with 15 academic faculty buildings, several labs and a state-of-the-art 700-bed hospital.

Solar plant design and build

Millennium Energy Industries will design and build the solar plant. It has subcontracted Greenonetec (GOT), an Austrian manufacturer, to supply the GK 3000 series solar collectors in March 2010. GOT has doubled its production line to supply the solar collectors on time. It has also entered into an agreement with Austrian company AEE Intec to benefit from their sustainable technology and global solar thermal application expertise.

Solar water heater

PNBAR's district solar water heater comprises a collector surface area of 36,305m², which is equivalent to five football pitches. Its size easily surpasses the current largest solar thermal power plant in Denmark, which covers an area of 19,875 m².

The solar panels will be mounted on the roof of the university building. The GK 3000 series collectors are large-surface collectors, and measure 5m² in length and 10m² in breadth. They are used for high-capacity solar thermal systems of more than 60m² and are adapted to suit the Arabian deserts with their heavy sandstorms.

Each GK 3000 series solar collector is made from special solar glass and equipped with a modified mounting system to withstand unfavourable weather conditions. It has 95% absorption capacity and weighs 170kg.

Saudi Arabia's mineral wealth

Saudi Arabia is rich in natural minerals and has 25% of the world's oil reserves (according to the Oil and Gas Journal). As of March 2010, it had an installed capacity of 46,000MW and needs 2,000MW of electricity every year to meet its local demand which is increasing at a rate of 7% per annum. Most of the Kingdom's energy is produced using oil (63%). The other source of energy production is natural gas (37%).

"Each GK 3000 series solar collector is made from special solar glass."

The kingdom is geographically located in a desert region favourable for the production of solar energy. As the region emits 7KW of energy per square metre for an average of over 12 hours everyday, there are plans to make solar power a major contributor to the power supply. High fuel prices have resulted in many oil-importing countries choosing alternative energy sources. Many countries are also blaming oil producing states for their role in the current climate change.

The kingdom has already invested $80bn to boost power generating capacity to 60,000MW by 2020. The government has also announced plans to generate 7% of the kingdom's energy from renewable sources by 2020.