Are the Oil Barons Panicking? Saudi Arabia to Spend $100 Billion on Renewable Energy

desert solar panel

 Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, may not be panicking quite yet about its ever-declining oil supply—but the country is certainly concerned. Consider: in February, a Wikileaks document revealed that Saudi Arabia might be overstating its oil reserves by 300 billion barrels, and the country recently asked for a slice of the UN's $100 billion climate change fund to help diversify to other energy sources (a galling request from such a wealthy country so dependent on other people not diversifying to other energy sources). And now the kingdom has announced that it plans to spend $100 billion on solar, nuclear, and other renewable energy sources. They haven't announced over what time period they will spend it, but that's a lot of cash. Private investments in Chinese renewable energy projects equalled $54.4 billion last year, which was the highest of any country.

"Fuel supply is one of the major challenges facing the power sector and the nation," Saleh Al-Awaji, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister for electricity at the Ministry of Water, said at a recent conference in Abu Dhabi (hat tip: Bloomberg). "The policy is to work intensely on saving energy and making sure every barrel of oil that can be saved is, and is made available for export."

That means Saudi Arabia wants to wean itself off oil but keep the rest of us hooked (unless it has plans to become the world's largest solar-panel exporter, too). The country still has a long way to go in reducing its reliance on oil—Saudi Arabia consumes 2.4 million barrels a day, and is expected to need at least 8.3 million barrels by 2028 if no action is taken. But the U.S. consumes a staggering 18.8 million barrels daily, making it the most oil-hungry nation in the world. A large portion of our oil comes from Saudi Arabia, which exports nearly 9 million barrels each day.

Saudi Arabia does, at least, have an advantage in the solar power arena: plentiful sun. In September, the kingdom will complete a 3.5 MW solar array—the largest solar power plant in the country. That's not very large considering that the largest solar plants in the world produce nearly 100 MW of power, but it's a much-needed start for a country that has grown in proportion to its oil wealth.

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

Read More: Why Is the New York Times Partnering With Shell Oil? [Updated]

Add New Comment


  • Barton Merle-Smith

    ...And now the kingdom has announced that it plans to spend $100 billion on solar, nuclear, and other renewable energy sources.

    Please...when did nuclear become a reneable energy source?

  • Chris Reich

    The Saudis have been investing in solar for years. They have lots open land and plenty of sun. Burning oil to produce electricity is a messy process requiring a lot of water which is in shorter supply than pole dancers in Saudi Land. (I have to stop reading Tom Robbins)

    I've worked with several clients who have shipped a lot of solar components to that region of the world. I only hope the U.S. will go after the Solar market aggressively. China out produces the U.S. in solar panels---sadly. The middle east will be a vast market for China if we don't get off of our collective, anti-renewable, climate change denying butts.

    Chris Reich

  • Bob Jacobson

    One of the Wikileaks memos from the US ambassador in Riyadh worried that the Saudis were overstating their petro reserves by 40 percent. In other words, there were and are no reserves. It's not an option to go renewable; it's the only way for us to survive as industrial societies. (I wouldn't mind going pastoral, but that would mean slowing wayyyyyyyy down, more than most mass societies could tolerate.) Let's just hope we haven't left it too long. It takes energy to develop methods for saving energy. Once we've spent our nest egg, we won't have anything to work with. So why are we spending it now?

  • Tim Bailen

    The $100 billion is over the next 10 years according to an article on Bloomberg.

  • Hotrao

    I think that despite concerns on oil ending up, moving to renewable energies is a wise move. Is not the problem of having easy access to oil, but rather to think of the future of the planet and ensure an effort to reduce emissions.

    On the "simple" economic side, in the more or less near future, oil will be less available, increasing costs. Going renewable ensures Saudi Arabia a future predominant position in energy also when oil will end.