Saudi Arabia got into solar today, but for reasons that are somewhat novel compared to other solar programs around the world.

The King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology has begun to build a solar powered desalination plant. Saudi Arabia currently consumes and produces 18 percent of the world's desalinated water. Desalination actually can consume tremendous amounts of energy. Oakland's Energy Recovery Inc. managed to pull off an IPO in the dark days of 2008 because it has created energy efficient desalination equipment.

Powering a desalination plant with solar will likely make this some of the most expensive water in the world. Solar, after all, still costs more than electricity from coal or natural gas. Most countries have launched solar programs to gain independence from fossil fuel imports. Saudi Arabia remains one of the biggest exporters of fossil fuels so their opinion is somewhat different. Before Copenhagen, some Saudi officials suggested that the extremely wealthy country be compensated for declines in demand due to renewables.

Nonetheless, you could see a solar manufacturing program in Saudi someday. Abu Dhabi has launched an ambitious program to diversify its economy with a renewable portfolio.