GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
The Potential of Pumped Storage Hydropower in Saudi Arabia – Is it simply about Energy Security or could it be a Pathway to Regional Cooperation?
Paper Proposal Text :
Globally hydropower constitutes sixteen percent of the total electricity production, and it is the largest source of renewable electricity.(1) Hydropower is a cost competitive source of energy, and while countries are investing in hydropower they diversify their electricity production and improve the supply security. Resource diversification, whether transportation fuels or electricity production, is a critical factor that increases energy security, and further, improves economic security.

Even though the idea of introducing pumped hydroelectric storage to the electricity production is not a new concept and such technology is mature, new technological development plays an important role in determining the economic and technical feasibility of such projects. Also, it is important to note that pumped hydroelectric storage technology is the only significant and flexible means of storing energy.

In the Persian Gulf, most of the electricity is produced from oil and gas,(2) and there is very little hydropower production. The exceptions are Iran and Iraq; they have hydropower resources that consist 5-10 percent of their total electricity production.(3) Further, in Iran several hydropower projects are operational (e.g. Karun Dam 2280MW, Masjed Soleyman Dam 2000MW and Karkhe Dam 400MW), and several projects are under construction or in advanced planning stage (e.g. Azad Dam).(4)

Saudi Arabia, on the contrary, does not have any hydropower stations, nor does it have any natural rivers or lakes. Seasonal floods occur around the Arabian Peninsula causing occasional heavy streams in the otherwise dry riverbeds. In the past decades more than 200 dams have been built to collect an estimated 450 million cubic meters of runoff floodwater annually in their reservoirs.(5) However, currently none of these reservoirs are harnessed to hydropower, but some of these dams could potentially be exploited to pumped storage hydropower.

Saudi Arabia’s electricity is currently generated almost exclusively by thermal power plants (oil and gas). For Saudi Arabia, introducing pumped storage hydropower resources (either seawater or floodwater) would present a way to stabilize electricity production during peak demand and reduce electricity produced by thermal plants. Currently very few studies (6) have been conducted, which evaluate the feasibility of such systems, but considering topographic conditions, there are several potential locations suitable for seawater pumped storage hydropower systems (e.g. along the Gulf of Aqaba (7)).

This paper introduces the concept of pumped storage hydropower systems and discusses the possibilities and benefits (8) of introducing such power stations to Saudi Arabia’s electricity system. The paper also considers the regional cooperation aspect of the hydropower development in the Gulf.

The past feasibility studies of the Dead Sea’s suitability to pumped storage hydropower have found the region’s topography ideal for several developments.(9) These studies can provide insight on how Saudi Arabia could develop its hydropower resources. For this reason, this paper uses the case studies of the proposed Nahal Parsa (800MW pumped storage in Israel near the Dead Sea) and the Med-Dead projects (800-2000MW in Israel), but also discusses the development aspects of some of the planned pumped storage facilities in Iran (e.g. Siah Bishe Pumped Storage Project 1040MW peak energy). (10)

Even though hydropower does not constitute a major share of electricity production in any of the Middle Eastern countries such development projects can have a significant potential of increasing the energy security. In addition, hydropower can add to the energy cooperation in the Persian Gulf and increase sharing of knowhow. From a regional perspective, the hydropower development has not reached its full potential.


(1) International Energy Agency, Hydropower Roadmap, Paris: IEA-OECD (2013)
(2) International Energy Agency, Middle East: Electricity and Heat for 2012, Accessed on 18.02.2015
(3) According to the International Energy Agency, in Iraq hydropower represents 9.5% of the total electricity production (2010) and in Iran 4.1% respectively (2010, quoted from IEA 2015)
(4) Iran Water and Power Resources Development Company, Projects at One Glance, Accessed on 18.02.2015
(5) Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, About Saudi Arabia, Accessed on 18.02.2015
(6) Read for instance: Kotiuga et al. Prefeasibility Study of a 1000 MW Pumped Storage Plant in Saudi Arabia, (2013), Accessed on 18.02.2015
(7) Ibid.
(8) US Army Corps of Engineers, Hydropower, Washington DC: USACE – US Department of Defense (1985) and Tahal, Mediterranean Dead Sea Hydroelectric Project, (1983)
(9) Slobodkin, I., Pumped Storage Development in Semi Arid Area, Israel Electric Corporation (1998), BW Engineers, R.W. Beck and Associates, Mediterranean Dead Sea Project Feasibility Review (1984) and Tahal, Mediterranean Dead Sea Hydroelectric Project, (1983)
(10) Colenco Power Engineering Limited, Siah Bishe Pumped Storage Project – Iran,, Accessed on 18.02.2015