Oil-rich Saudi Arabia is spending billions in renewable energy

Saudi Arabia is known for its oil and sun-soaked deserts. In a move to secure the kingdom’s financial future, its name could soon become synonymous with renewable energy.

According to the New York Times, Prince Mohammed bin Salman decided that Saudi energy company ACWA Power would spearhead the creation of a $300 million solar farm capable of powering 200,000 homes. And that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to what the Saudi government plans to spend on renewables.

“All the big developers are watching Saudi,” said Jenny Chase, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a market research firm. ... The renewables strategy finally started to take real shape when Khaled al-Falih took over as energy minister in 2016. Mr. Falih made solar and wind a priority for the kingdom, and set up a new unit last year to expedite the work. Much of the staff was drawn from Aramco.

Mr. Shehri, who had worked at Aramco before leading the kingdom’s renewables program, said he faced an “extremely challenging” task. Meeting Saudi Arabia’s targets would require contracts for a series of new facilities to be awarded by the end of 2020. “The only way this was possible,” he said, “was because we have done previous work.”

Saudi Arabia, with its vast oil resources, would seem an unlikely champion for renewables. But the country’s location and climate mean it has plenty of promising sites for solar and wind farms.

By 2019, the Times writes, they’ll have thrown $7 billion at the creation of solar and wind farms. The hope is that this push towards clean energy will be able to provide the kingdom with close to 10% of its internal energy needs, not to mention supplying its citizens with jobs for generations to come.

But there’s a dark side to this story: developing domestic wind and solar power allows Saudi oil companies to export more of their oil.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

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