The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Sheikh and Bake in the Gulf

The oil rich desert kingdoms of Arabia are turning to the sun for fresh water. Arid Arab states currently use oil (which they have plenty of) to desalinate water (which they have practically none of). This is expensive, so the oil states are looking to use solar energy instead of oil. The Financial Times has more:

Members of the six-country Gulf Co-operation Council … depend on desalination plants for the majority of their water needs because groundwater is in critically short supply, or, in some cases, just does not exist.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, is also the world’s largest user of desalinated water … The oil is sold to power and water producers for just $2 a barrel, he says, compared with the international market price of more than $100 a barrel.

Unwilling to risk political agitation by removing subsidies on water consumption, the Gulf monarchies are instead looking to run desalination plants on renewable energy.

Without the sun, Saudi Arabia and its friends are in big trouble. As their populations grow, their water needs increase, but their aquifers are running dry. The power and water demands of Saudi Arabia currently consume one sixth of its total oil production, eating up the oil wealth on which it depends.

What will make the future of solar energy promising won’t be half baked subsidy programs in damp and foggy Europe. And it certainly won’t be cheesy loans to well connected political cronies at companies like Solyndra in the US. It will be the desert kingdoms of the Arabs.

And that process is already starting.

Published on January 19, 2013 10:00 am