“Unless we develop new sources of energy, we are indeed heading for a catastrophe. So, in short, we look forward to the day when books are written about ‘solar energy sheikhs’ and to the day when ‘sunshine OPEC’ is formed.”–Ghazi Algosaibi, circa 1980, Saudi Arabian Power and Industry Minister
Saudi Arabia’s interest in solar energy doesn’t get much press but the truth is, Saudi Arabia is in the energy business, not just the oil business and has been developing solar since the 1960s.
I first visited Saudi Arabia in 1984 to research The Solar Habitat, a documentary I hoped to produce. Here’s a link to the film treatment: Solar Habitat
At the time there was a Saudi-US partnership of sorts in the creation of solar villages in the kingdom. That partnership, which began during the Carter administration, largely came to an end at some point in the first term of the Reagan administration and the solar panels dismantled on the roof of the White House.
However, prominent members of the Saudi royal family are known to be keen conservationists. Saud al-Faisal, who headed the Saudi National Wildlife Commission from its inception in 1986 certainly was, as well as Mohammad bin Fahd as governor of the Eastern Province for almost three decades, and Abdullah bin Faisal as secretary-general, later as chairman of The Royal Commission.
No, the Saudis, knowing their oil reserves would not last forever, did not pull the plug on solar. And Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s crown prince and de facto leader, has been a major advocate for the development of solar energy to the point that Saudi Arabia is now building what is slated to be the world’s largest solar power project—by 2030 expected to produce 200 gigawatts of power. It’s being co-funded by the Japanese.
So if Joe Biden is really serious about addressing climate change and the development of alternative sources of energy, he should indeed visit Saudi Arabia this summer—and take John Kerry with him—to engage in substantive talks about the establishment of “sunshine OPEC”.