Blogs > Guest Blog > August 2013

An Oil Giant Takes the Plunge into Renewable Energy



Contributed by Wyatt C. King, Director, Albright Stonebridge Group

The United States is currently experiencing an energy revolution. New exploration techniques like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have unlocked vast reserves of previously inaccessible oil and natural gas in deep shale formations. U.S. oil and gas production is on the rise for the first time in decades and natural gas prices have fallen precipitously in the last few years. Many supporters of renewable energy are concerned this fossil fuel bonanza will have a braking effect on renewable energy development in the United States.

Ironically, at the same time, Saudi Arabia, the world’s oil producer nonpareil, is making a massive commitment to renewable energy. Last year, the Kingdom announced plans to install 54 gigawatts (GW) of solar, wind, geothermal and waste-to-energy plants over the coming 20 years. That is more renewable capacity than currently exists in the entire world (excluding hydro), enough to power about 18 million U.S.-style homes.

Solar constitutes the lion’s share (41 GW) of the Saudi plan, and for good reason: in addition to intense sunshine much of the year, the country has lots of open land and sand (an important source of silicone). Consequently, the government is planning to invest $109 billion in photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) with the goal of meeting 25 to 30 percent of electricity demand from the sun by 2032. At least some of the CSP plants will include molten salt storage or be co-fired with natural gas, so that they can provide power even after the sun goes down.

Until recently, Saudi Arabia had expressed very little interest in non-fossil energy. The country is virtually floating on oil and has been content burning huge amounts of it—800,000 barrels a day as of 2011—to generate its electricity. So what has changed?

Stagnant crude production likely played a role, prompting officials to contemplate a world after oil. Some experts believe Saudi Arabia has already passed peak oil production, or soon will. But even if oil continues to flow for decades, transitioning to non-fossil power generation will allow the country to save more of its precious commodity for export.

Equally important, Saudi leaders see renewable energy as an economic development strategy—a way to diversify the economy, create jobs for its exploding youth population, and develop world-leading expertise in a field that is poised to grow steadily throughout the 21st Century. Saudi officials have emphasized that bids for solar power projects will be evaluated in part based on whether they include local content and job training for Saudi citizens.

Finally, the fact that renewable energy will reduce the country’s carbon footprint may have also been a motivating factor, as the realities of a warming world become clearer.

Whatever the reasons behind Saudi Arabia’s ambitious plans, it is extraordinary to see a country so closely identified with petroleum moving in such a different direction. The Saudis are betting that the future belongs to renewables, which is every bit as much a revolution as what is happening in the U.S.

Posted: 8/30/2013 12:38:34 PM by Mary Kestner | with 0 comments

The Fate of Creation

Only by gaining a better understanding of biology and science will human beings have a chance to make a radical shift in our dangerous misconceptions about progress.

Somehow and somewhere back in history humanity lost its way. We evolved in a biologically rich world over tens of thousands of generations. We destroyed most of that biological richness in order to improve our lives and generate more people. Billions more people, to the peril of Creation. I would like to offer the following explanation of the human dilemma:

According to archaeological evidence, we strayed from Nature with the beginning of civilization roughly ten thousand years ago. That quantum leap beguiled us with an illusion of freedom from the world that had given us birth. It nourished the belief that the human spirit can be molded into something new to fit changes in the environment and culture, and as a result the timetables of history desynchronized. A wiser intelligence might now truthfully say of us at this point: here is a chimera, a new and very odd species come shambling into our universe, a mix of Stone Age emotion, medieval self-image, and godlike technology. The combination makes the species unresponsive to the forces that count most for its own long-term survival.

What are we to do? At the very least, put together an honest history, one on which people of many faiths can in principle agree. If such can be fashioned, it will serve at least as prologue to a safer future.

We can begin with the key discovery of green history: civilization was purchased by the betrayal of Nature.

The Neolithic revolution, comprising of the invention of agriculture and villages, fed on Nature’s bounty. The forward leap was a blessing for humanity. Yes, it was: Those who have lived among hunter-gatherers will tell you they are not at all to be envied. But the revolution encouraged the false assumption that a tiny selection of domesticated plants and animals can support human expansion indefinitely.

History now teaches a different lesson, but only to those who will listen. Granted, many people seem content to live entirely within the synthetic ecosystems. But so are domestic animals content, even in the grotesquely abnormal habitats in which we rear them. This in my mind is a perversion. It is not the nature of human beings to be cattle in glorified feedlots.

Every person deserves the option to travel easily in and out of the complex and primal world that gave us birth.

Part of the dilemma is that while most people around the world care about the natural environment, they don’t know why they care or why they should feel responsible for it.
This confusion is a great problem for contemporary society as well as for future generations. It is linked to another great difficulty: the inadequacy of science education everywhere in the world. Both arise in part from the explosive growth and complexity of modern biology.

I believe that the solution to all three difficulties—ignorance of the environment, inadequate science education, and the bewildering growth of biology—is to refigure them into a single problem. I hope that you will agree that every educated person should know something about the core of this unified issue. Teacher and student alike will benefit from a recognition that living Nature has opened a broad pathway into the heart of science itself, that the breath of our life and our spirit depend on its survival.

Abridged text excerpted with permission from Moral Ground: Ethical Action For a Planet in Peril, Kathleen Dean Moore & Michael P. Nelson (2010),

E.O. Wilson is a renowned biologist, theorist, naturalist and author. A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, Wilson coauthored his most recent book,
The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies, with Bert Hölldobler.

Posted: 8/23/2013 12:39:56 PM by Mary Kestner | with 0 comments

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