Renewable energy, currently a Republican object of derision and attack on the Obama administration in next month’s U.S. presidential election, may have found a most unlikely ally.
In an exclusive, Britain’s “Guardian” newspaper is reporting that Saudi Arabian Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, told an audience at the Global Economic Symposium in Brazil that he hoped that Saudi Arabia’s domestic energy needs might be met entirely by low-carbon energy renewable sources within his “lifetime,” adding that Saudi Arabia wants to use its vast reserves of hydrocarbons to produce other goods rather than use them solely for power generation. Bin Turki told a startled audience, "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” before adding, “but I don't think it will be."
And how influential is the 67 year-old bin Turki? The UN in its Rio agenda lists him as “His Royal Highness Prince Turki Bin Nasser Bin ABDULAZIZ, Minister and Director General of the Meteorology and Environmental Protection Agency of Saudi Arabia.” Consider his biography - bin Turki is one of the founders of the King Faisal Foundation and serves as Chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies. From 1977 to 2001, bin Turki was the Director General of Al Mukhabarat Al A'amah, Saudi Arabia's intelligence agency, and subsequently served as ambassador to the United Kingdom and the United States.
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For Americans, the most controversial part of bin Turki’s biography is the fact that bin Turki as Director General of Al Mukhabarat Al A'amah Saudi intelligence met al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Along with Central Intelligence Agency operatives, bin Turki met bin Laden several times during the 1980s in efforts to support him in Afghanistan against the Soviets. The support came after Saudi intelligence joined Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence service and the CIA in funding the mujahideen. Bin Turki met bin Laden a total of five times, the last time in early 1990.
Saudi Arabia's current energy of fossil fuels is roughly two-thirds coming from oil and the remainder from natural gas. According to the US government's Energy Information Administration, “Saudi Arabia has approximately one-fifth of the world's proven oil reserves, and is the largest oil producer and exporter of total petroleum liquids in the world… and maintains the world’s largest oil production capacity.” Saudi Arabia now produces close to 12 million barrels of oil a day, representing more than 12 percent of world crude production.
Surprisingly, bin Turki’s comments were largely overlooked by the world’s media.
Bin Turki’s observations have to be viewed in a number of contexts.
First, while renewable energy currently costs significantly more per kilowatt hour than fossil fuel generation, countries with deep fiscal reserves are exploring it, most notably Germany, which in in the wake of Japan’s 11 March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (NPP) disaster saw German Chancellor Angela Merkel announce that Germany would close all of its 19 NPPs between 2015 and 2022. It was an audacious move, as Germany’s NPPs produced about 28 percent of the country's electricity.
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And Saudi Arabia is certainly blessed with enough sunshine to support a burgeoning solar power industry.
But, at the end of the day, bin Turki’s comments can be seen as representing a current of thought amongst the Saudi Arabian ruling family both to preserve its oil reserves while turning them into value-added products in the form of fertilizer, plastics and polymers.
Which raises an interesting question – as the West is as addicted to oil as some addicts are to crack, then why is one of the world’s major purveyors of hydrocarbons moving away from indigenous dependency while Western nations, most notably the U.S., are not? Renewable energy has become an increasingly contentious element in the upcoming presidential election, with Republican nominee Mitt Romney attacking the Obama administration’s green energy initiatives even as it proposes to resolve U.S. energy imports by reaching out to Canada and Mexico in a “greater North American energy partnership.”
Saudi Arabia is currently the second U.S. provider of oil imports, sending roughly 1.465 thousand barrels per day to U.S. shores, according to the Energy Information Administration.
When your second-largest dealer – err, sorry, “supplier,” decides to “kick the habit,” isn’t it about time to consider alternatives?
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com