Saudi Arabia announces intention to be fully powered by renewable energy

Saudi Arabia the world’s biggest oil producer recently announced that it intends to power the country entirely from renewable energy sources. This intention was announced by Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, an influential member of the country’s royal family, former head of the Saudi Intelligence Service, and founder of the philanthropic  King Faisal Foundation. The announcement was made at the Global Economic Symposium in Brazil.

Prince Turki stated that whilst he hoped that the transition could be completed in his lifetime it was likely that it would take a number of years to complete the process. He made the point that Saudi Arabia‘s oil reserves may be better put to use in devotion to the manufacture of materials such as polymers, plastics and fertilisers rather than simply being used for fuel and that the transition to large scale renewable generation could facilitate this.

Other sources have suggested that a drive for renewables is being motivated by dramatic rises in Saudi Arabia‘s domestic consumption of it’s oil( the country currently burns 850 million barrels of oil a year – almost a third of total domestic production); which if they were to continue to rise at current rates would mean that the country would quickly have to begin importing rather than exporting oil. Saudi government sources rather highlighted the country’s vast solar potential and the dramatic drop in the cost of solar power.

Prince Turki stated:

“Oil is more precious for us underground than as a fuel source. If we can get to the point where we can replace fossil fuels and use oil to produce other products that are useful, that would be very good for the world. I wish that may be in my lifetime, but I don’t think it will be.”

The Prince also referred to the development of Carbon Capture and Storage technology – arguing that research in this area should take the form  of international cooperation and collaboration rather than competition. Saudi Arabia has a lot of potential in this area as depleted oil fields can be used to store captured carbon emissions. The Scottish and UK Governments have similar designs on depleted North Sea oil fields.

The Saudi’s announcement has been generally greeted positively. Joss Garman, political director of Greenpeace commented:

“It speaks volumes that a Saudi prince can see the benefits of switching to clean energy sources when [the British Chancellor] George Osborne semmingly cannot, but Saudi Arabia will only truly be a green economy when it leaves its fossil fuels in the ground.”

The beginnings of this move to renewable energy can already be seen. A Saudi Government Energy Advisor is said to be ‘pushing’ for 41 gigawatts of low carbon energy (reportedly a mixture of solar, geothermal  and nuclear) to be operational within the next 20 years. Additionally, the French company Compagnie de Saint Gobain SA has announced plans to build a Solar Photovoltaic (pv) module manufacturing facility in the kingdom.

There is no denying the vast potential of, not just, Saudi Arabia but the entire Middle Eastern region for renewable energy; most obviously solar power.

Iraq has announced similar, if perhaps less ambitious, plans to invest in 400 megawatts of solar and wind generation over the next three years.

Laith al-Mamury of the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity remarked:

“It is true that we are an oil country, but we should save oil for the coming generation not only sell it or burn it.”

A concentrated push from the Middle East to develop and construct mass scale renewable energy projects is encouraging from an international perspective. Such a move could not only serve to suppress fossil fuel prices or at least slow down price rises but also suggests large investment in research and design. Cheaper costs for renewable energy is a benefit which would be felt across the world.