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Saudi Arabia recommits to 50% renewable power

29 March 2021 Amena Saiyid

The world's leading oil producer, Saudi Arabia, reaffirmed a five-year old commitment to power half the country with renewable sources under a newly announced "green initiative."

"As a leading global oil producer, the kingdom fully recognizes its share of responsibility in advancing the fight against the climate crisis. Just as the kingdom underpinned energy markets during the oil and gas era, it is going to become a global leader in forging a greener world," Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman announced 28 March through the official government-run Saudi Press Agency.

Saudi Arabia first announced its renewable target in 2016 as part of its Vision 2030.

At the time, Saudi generated 0.1% of its total electricity generating capacity of 330.5 terawatt-hours (TWh) from solar, while 59.6% came from natural gas, and 40.3% from oil, according to the US Energy Information Administration's 2017 report on the kingdom.

In a 29 October 2020 report, IHS Markit said the country's power generation increased to 365.16 TWh in 2019 of which 0.02% came from renewables, mainly solar.

The country's National Renewable Energy Program in January 2019 announced that it plans to install 27.3 GW of mostly solar and to a lesser extent wind by 2023 and 58.7 GW by 2030.

However, as of June 2020, only 330 MW of utility-scale solar photovoltatic projects and only one 2.5 MW wind demonstration project developed by Saudi Aramco (in partnership with GE) were operational, according to another IHS Markit report.

Under the green initiative, Saudi Arabia also is promising to reduce 130 million mt a year of carbon emissions that it said was equivalent to 4% of global fossil fuel emissions each year. The country plans to meet this goal not only through increasing its reliance on renewables, but also through investments in clean hydrocarbon technology ventures.

Saudi Arabia, which is ranked 15th globally for its GHG emissions, is taking steps to invest in clean energy technologies. For instance, the International Energy Agency in October 2020 reported that the oil-rich nation formed a joint venture to build a "green hydrogen" plant powered by 4 GW of renewable electricity, with a planned capacity of 650 mt per day.

In September, state-owned Saudi Aramco shipped 40 mt of "blue" ammonia from its natural gas fields as part of a pilot demonstration project to Japan, where the resulting carbon dioxide was partly used in an enhanced oil recovery project and partly to produce methanol.

Committed to 'blue' hydrogen

During CERAWeek by IHS Markit in early March, Bashir Dabbousi, technology, strategy & planning director for Saudi Aramco, said the country was "definitely" interested in opportunities to produce hydrogen that has zero carbon attached to it, but especially from its oil and gas resources.

Dabbousi also said the country would invest in more green hydrogen once the cost to produce it from renewables becomes competitive.

Crown Prince Salman also unveiled a Middle Eastern green initiative the same day as the kingdom's plan.

50 billion trees

Under this plan, the kingdom will work with its neighboring countries and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council to plant an additional 40 billion trees to combat desertification, which climate change is exacerbating. Saudi Arabia's share would be 10 billion trees, he said, as part of a national plan to improve vegetation cover and preserve marine life.

Noting that the share of clean energy production in the Middle East doesn't exceed 7%, Crown Prince Salman announced Saudi Arabia, with its regional partners, would work toward reducing carbon emissions from hydrocarbon production by more than 60%, but didn't specify a timeline for it.

In December 2020, an IHS Markit index listed Saudi Arabia nearly in the middle of G-20 countries with strong regulatory policies to reduce GHG emissions from its oil and gas sector.

While the kingdom gets high marks for reducing leakage, venting, and flaring of methane, which is a far more potent GHG than carbon dioxide, IHS Markit dinged the country for not having a legally binding GHG reduction target. The index also noted that Saudi Arabia has signed onto the Global Methane Initiative, an international public-private effort to limit methane emissions, and also is part of the World Bank Group's Zero Routine Flaring Initiative by 2030.

Posted 29 March 2021 by Amena Saiyid, Senior Climate and Energy Research Analyst


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