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.