If you’re looking to identify the mecca for solar power, here’s a humble suggestion: Mecca.

According to a Bloomberg report, the holy city in Saudi Arabia is accepting bids to build 100 megawatts of solar capacity to power the city.

The plans are the latest indication that the desert kingdom is stepping up efforts to diversify its sources of energy as economic and population growth threaten to erode Saudi Arabia’s status as the world’s biggest oil exporter.

The central government is seeking $109 billion of investment for building a solar industry, aiming to get a third of Saudi Arabia’s power from the sun by 2032 compared with almost none now. The target is almost as much as the $136 billion invested worldwide in solar energy last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Mecca during the Hajj, 2008. (Photo by Al Jazeera.)

That’s the interesting flip side to the effort: Even Saudi Arabia recognizes the need to diversify its power production. Its current electricity production, you’ll be unsurprised to learn, is about 60 percent from burning oil and 40 percent from natural gas. That’s not sustainable, particularly given that, as we reported earlier this month, the nation may be a net importer of oil by 2030. Diversification is a smart strategy — and solar is the smart way to go about it.

The nation gets more than twice the sunshine of anywhere in Europe and about as much as the brightest parts of the south- western U.S. Research at the King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals in Dhahran estimated Saudi solar radiation between 4.5 to 7 kilowatts per square meter a day in the kingdom. Greece by comparison measured 1.7 kilowatts, according to the European Photovoltaic Industry Association. …

The kingdom aims to generate as much energy from solar cells as it pumps out of the ground to export in the form of crude, Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi said in a speech in Krakow, Poland, in June 2011. He said the nation has the potential to produce enough solar power to meet four times current world electricity demand.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

A word of advice: If you choose to someday visit Mecca to see its solar farms, some times of year are better than others.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!