Rhein on Energy and Climate

North Africa and the Arab peninsula are among the best insolated regions on earth. There are very few other areas with comparable duration and intensity of sunshine. If anywhere, it is in the huge Arab desert areas that solar electricity could be generated at competitive terms, provided it will be possible to cope with the dust problem.

So far Arab countries have failed to exploit this golden resource, preferring to live on their huge oil and gas wealth.

This situation is slowly starting to change, not because of fears about climate change but because of the need to find long-term alternatives for depleting oil and gas resources. Several countries therefore aim at developing solar power capacities for replacing oil and gas in domestic electricity generation, reserving oil and gas for exports and as feed stuff for their rapidly expanding petrochemical industries.

However, only a few Arab countries have ambitious plans for investing in solar or wind energy. Algeria, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the most advanced in terms of volume of planned investments and policy formulation.

  • Algeria aims at covering one third of its energy demand from renewable sources by 2030 and investing $ 100 billion to that end.
  • Saudi Arabia wants to generate 54 GW electricity from solar and wind by 2032 to free scarcer oil for exports.
  • The UAE are in the process of preparing a comprehensive regulatory framework including a feed-in tariff incentive scheme. The Emirates Solar Industry Association supports the government in pushing ahead the use of solar power.

But these three countries counter-act their drive for solar power by subsidies on fossil energy, which exceed 50 per cent of the full cost of supply.

As a group the 22 Arab League member countries are among the worst climate polluters on earth. In terms of per capita C02 emissions they easily beat Western champions like USA, Canada or Australia.

As long as most Arab countries keep subsidising fossil fuel and refuse to impose even minimal excise taxes, solar power will not be competitive and no more than a fig leaf.

From a global climate perspective, they should focus on reducing their excessive fossil fuel consumption rather than promoting solar or wind energy. Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies must be the first priority. This should be the key message for the EU-Arab policy dialogue and economic cooperation.


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  1. Dear Mr E Rhein:
    I suppose that we all knew that the Middle Eastern and North African Oil Producing Majors had always subsidised their internal oil uses, but there is little we can do about it. Likewise the amount of subsidising given to the Oil Majors in the EU is also staggering beyond recall — variously estimated at between €200 Billion and €500 Billion per year ~~ so surely the kettle is not so un-black?
    We live by rules of the Community where we live and now we see the awful consequences where new developments being sponsored by the EU countries are making this issue even more complex.
    We see issues where individual countries are subsidising their Energy Companies by giving them “Major Grants” to develop Renewable Energies on the basis that these are needed to stimulate their “financially-failing companies” with the results that these Companies immediately pass these grants in to their share-holders’ pockets as dividends. ALCOA, DONG ENERGY, Peel Utilities, Vivendi, ESBI, RWE, EDF, National Power, are typical of these as are the many others we see operating i this arena. But nothing is done to redress this issue. Now, just recently, in another serious example and breach of EU guidelines we read of the tiny country of Malta going out to tender for a Liquified Gas Fuelled Power Station whereby they have totally ignored the EC Procurement Rules to buy same and appear to have avoided the natural inquisitorial reasoning of refusing to answer questions from applicant tenderers because the selection process is so skewed to define pre-ordained companies so that they can end up with their preferred bidder to supply the plant of their own wishes. All this to meet the rigours of the Election gimmickry of attempting to meet the statements of reducing electricity costs in the islands by 25%. This is a blatant piece of financial engineering where the country already has questionable accountancy over its electricity supply company and is now feathering huge subsidies to a perceived preferrred supplier (known at the beginning) and then they seek to have EU Funds for other areas of infrastructure development from the EU without any redress. These issues cannot be right.
    So whilst addressing the issues of the Middle East Countries and North Africa with their Oil let’s deal with the closer issues first.

  2. I have to say Mr Rhein that it is a pity that there are so many hidden subsidies around in this World. The days when we do not subsidise anything have all but gone. However, yea . here I agree.

    We have the opportunity to force the issue though by making our own Energy sources from Renewables as well as the Fossil Derived Existing Sources. Renewables by definition are exactly that, but the Fossil Fuels are limited in quantity. Of course we have been scare-mongering ourselves to having “heart attacks” and “nervous-ness” over this issue for decades only to find that our prognoses were somewhat “faulted” in the details. However if we run out of these in my Grand-children’s or Great Grand-children’s time the legacy that I would (and you would) have left will not go down too well with them – and dare I say Our Maker. We are but Stewards of the World not those who have been given the right to Dominate for Our Selfish Esteem and the Now.

    We have an opportunity – albeit being missed and gradually over-looked in a big way – to maximise the development of some serious Renewable Energy Sources which are awaiting use and ready to implement. Some such are:
    • the Icelandic Submarine Electrical power link which has been talked about for over 20 years and it can be implemented very easily at a cost that is less than building anew a major Nuclear Power Station, i.e. less than €15 Billion for twice the equivalent supply of power into the European Grid via Scotland. This can connect to both spare Hydro-electric Power as well as Geo-thermal Power for which there are large quantities relatively un-tapped.
    • the Norwegian Submarine Electric Cable is another which could as easily be connected through Scotland to the rest of the EU as well as through Denmark and Germany. This offer another superb spare capacity of Hydro-Electric Power that could supply 20% of Germany’s needs.
    • now we have the real issue of being able to tap into the immense power of the Sea with the enormous reserves of properly developed turbines off the North Western Coast of Europe from Biscay to Iceland and the Northern Cape of Norway. This potential is immense and readily available as the proving trials in Strangford Lough (Northern Ireland) in Bantry Bay (Canada) have demonstrated so readily as being by far the best options.
    • and further more we have a real opportunity to combine these together with the Off-shore Wind Turbines by string these Sea Turbines below the sea surface and using the same Electrical Connections to deliver the respective energies to the shore. A Back-up scenario for Wind that can quadruple the output of usable energy at a stroke of simplicity!
    • and we see the new developments of Wind Turbines now in the making (a company owner and associate of mine has such that has an efficiency of twice the existing turbines at half the Capital Expenditure, ready to go in to full production, but the existing monopolies are a hurdle to get through.
    • in Photo-voltaic systems we have already seen the new developments of the Spray-applied double skin paint-style ultra-thin flexible membrane systems that can be applied to any surface – new or old – at a third the current prices of the rigid thin film plates and it is a world apart from these. This development needs bringing in to development through the European Union quickly before the Chinese and Indians take it on board as their own.
    • the Renewable Fuels, made from Non-food Sources and in Particular Waste and Macro-Algae, for Transport are awaiting rapid development. We know that from using Discarded Waste Biomass alone the EU could meet more than 50% of its Fuel needs for Transport made from such materials indigenous to the EU. And by doing so it could produce a Renewable Fuel alternative to oil-based Diesel and gasoline/petrol at less than €urocents 95 per litre -LESS THAN €UROCENTS 95 PERLITRE, and it can be held at that for well into the next decade! However one of the reasons why this is being held up is the reluctance of the EU to allow for usage of Renewable fuels at blend-rates greater than the 20% forecasted use because of the lobbying from the Oil and Fuel companies. Why? Why doesn’t the EU lift the thresh-hold so that broader quantities of Biofuel Blends can be used? My colleagues can see great potential for the EU here to be an exporter of such fuels when they are made from Non-Food Sources because of this.
    • We need to ensure Mr Rhein that when we allow the EU to subsidise our Own Energy and Fuel base these subsidies are not directed to Share Holders’ pockets and they are put to good use. Too often we see these being offered to companies that do not need them: this is wrong, but that was our last discussion.

    Surely isn’t this an incentive to go forward now? By using the EU and its forthright ambitions to meet the Oil Countries Head-On with such developments we would have a better chance to get them to reduce their subsidies to the better of the Common Good of us all. And it is the Common Good which is the issue here.

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