Geothermal energy

Developing Geothermal Energy Resources in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—A Monumental Step Towards Achieving the Country’s Nationally Determined Contribution Targets Under the Paris Agreement

With almost three-quarters of the global greenhouse gas emissions coming from the energy sector, there is a heavy burden and a huge responsibility on the shoulders of all countries of the world to transform the energy sector to be cleaner and greener by eliminating these emissions.

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Executed in the year 2016, the Paris Agreement was an enormous environmental protection achievement as it was the first-ever legally binding agreement that not only committed 169 countries to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but also united the world under one goal, probably for the first time ever as far as we can go back in the history books. The Paris Agreement also fostered a new culture creating a global behavioral trend targeting the elimination of GHG emissions. This is not strange at all when you think of the risk that we all share, a risk that can change the face of our planet as we know it and drastically affect the human race.

Why Is Elimination of Greenhouse Gases From the Earth’s Atmosphere a Must?

The reason why the human race united must reduce GHG emissions is that this group of gases is characterized by its capacity to trap heat in the atmosphere, and hence elevate its temperature. Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent GHG (82%), and it is generated heavily through the combustion of fossil fuels. This is why GHGs are also referred to as having a carbon footprint, measured in CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent).

Even the slightest increases in average global temperatures can have huge effects, and the most obvious effect is that glaciers and ice caps melt faster than usual. Most of the meltwater will soon find its way to oceans, causing sea levels to rise.

Fig. 1—Average global sea-level change, 1880–2021. 
Source: US Environmental Protection Agency.

Fig. 1Average global sea-level change, 1880–2021.
Source: US Environmental Protection Agency.

As reported by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and shown in Fig. 1, studies showed a steady global sea-level increase at an average rate of 0.15 cm/year from 1880 to 2013. The reason behind this sea-level rise is the paralleled step increase in global GHG emissions which resulted mainly from the energy sector and energy utilization. And to make the situation worse, from 1993 onwards, the average sea level has risen at a rate of 0.3 to 0.36 cm/year, a significant 100% increase in the rate. If the glaciers—which cover 10% of the world’s landmasses and hold 75% of the world’s fresh water—were to melt, it could raise the sea level by 70 m, which is more than enough to result in catastrophic consequences for the human race.

 GCC Countries Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC)

As reported in, 2019 global annual GHG emissions were 54.82 billion tonnes of CO2e, and the Middle East countries’ contribution for the same year was 4.23 billion tonnes of CO2e, representing 7.7% of the global GHG emissions. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries contributed 1.59 billion tonnes of CO2e, representing 2.89% of the global GHG emissions for the same reporting year.

Table 1. 2019 GCC greenhouse gas emissions and NDC targets as reported by the United Nations.
Sources: UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Our World in Data.

Table 1. 2019 GCC greenhouse gas emissions and NDC targets as reported by the United Nations.
Sources: UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Our World in Data.

Fostered by the Paris Agreement, GCC countries have set aggressive Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) targets. as shown in Table 1 and reported by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and have identified clear roadmaps for achieving those targets.

The Saudi NDC target is to reduce GHG emissions by 278 million tonnes by the year 2030. To achieve such an ambitious goal, the Saudi NDC plan took many measures among which was increasing the use of renewable energy to reach around 50% of the energy mix by 2030.

Geothermal energy is one of the main targeted sources of renewable energy. According to the Saudi NDC report, Saudi will also seek to localize a significant portion of the renewable energy value chain in the Saudi economy, including research and development and manufacturing.

 Unlocking Geothermal Energy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Geothermal energy is the energy generated by harnessing the heat produced from the Earth's crust and converting this heat to cooling, heating, desalination, or direct electricity generation. When compared to other renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy, geothermal energy generation is not seasonal and not affected by weather conditions, which means energy supplies from geothermal plants are constant and hence more reliable.

Technologies deployed in harvesting geothermal energy went through several decades of improvements and optimizations which led to reducing the cost and thereby expanded the amount of economically viable resources globally. By 2021, 27 countries generated about 92 billion kWh of electricity from geothermal energy. The US was the highest geothermal electricity producer, and Indonesia was the second highest.

Zooming in on Saudi Arabia's geothermal energy development initiative which was mainly driven by Saudi NDC targets and the Saudi 2030 Vision, several key local government bodies, academic institutions, and industry sectors started to fulfill their role of responsibility as per the vision.

For example, the Saudi Geological Society (SGS) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Saudi Ministry of Energy aiming to commence the exploration of geothermal energy resources within the kingdom. Another example is King Abdulaziz University’s valuable research in NEOM which proved the availability of ground heat that can generate geothermal energy in theNEOM area by generating Curie temperature gradient maps.

The Curie temperature is a point at which magnetic minerals lose their magnetization due to high temperatures exceeding 580°C. The study concluded that shallow Curie depths near the Gulf of Aqaba are recognized as a source of renewable geothermal energy (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2—(a) Curie depths distribution in the study area.
(b) Curie depth surface map deduced from magnetic data for NEOM study area.

Fig. 2(a) Curie depths distribution in the study area; (b) Curie depth surface map deduced from magnetic data for NEOM study area. Source: Aboud et al.

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) also had its own initiative and investigated the geothermal energy potential along the Red Sea, targeting many syn-rift sedimentary basins. KAUST evaluated the potential of low-to-medium geothermal energy extraction and utilization projects for heating and cooling, water desalination and power generation, and concluded that the subsurface geology in Saudi Arabia is favorable for developing abundant, clean, alternative, and sustainable geothermal energy.

 Geothermal Energy and its Overlaps With the Oil and Gas Industry Sector 

Since understanding the subsurface geology and drilling operations constitutes most of the cost associated with development of geothermal resources, the oilfield service companies that provide drilling and drilling services were naturally attracted to provide the same services to the geothermal energy sector, which is much smaller in size but bigger in strategic importance. Because while fossil energy is the past and today’s primary source of energy, renewable energy is the future. Thus, it is also good for oilfield service companies to establish an entry point into the next generation of energy—renewable energy.

TAQA, a Saudi oilfield service company, has have gone through logarithmic growth, both organically and inorganically, and has closed a number of important acquisitions aiming to complete its target portfolio of oilfield services. It has globally expanded its footprint to more than 20 countries as of today.

Realizing the strategic importance of pursuing geothermal energy, TAQA has entered into a joint venture with a leading Icelandic company, Reykjavik Geothermal based in Reykjavik, Iceland, which is globally recognized as a pioneer in sustainable geothermal power development.

This collaboration, named TAQA Geothermal, is anticipated to play a crucial role in enabling Saudi Arabia to achieve its carbon-reduction objectives. TAQA Geothermal aims to initiate geothermal development projects to produce at least 1 GW of electricity or its equivalent in the foreseeable future.

The most recent TAQA Geothermal project was signed with KAUST in December 2023 to deliver a pilot well for research on geothermal energy utilization. KAUST researchers will use data obtained from this well to optimize the development of geothermal energy resources within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

With this project, TAQA Geothermal is already heavily engaged in exploring, evaluating, and harnessing geothermal resources in the Kingdom, aiming to reduce the Saudi carbon footprint and move towards greener energy.


Climate Change Indicators: Sea Level. US Environmental Protection Agency.

Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)—The Paris Agreement and NDCs.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Our World in Data.

Geothermal Explained: Use of Geothermal Energy. US Energy Information Administration.

Geothermal Imaging of the Saudi Cross-Border City of NEOM Deduced From Magnetic Data
by E. Aboud et al. MDPI: Sustainability 2023.

 Computational Earthquake Seismology, Geothermal Energy in Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

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