Photographer: Jacob Kepler/Bloomberg

At OPEC the Saudi Oil Minister Mainly Wants to Discuss Solar Power

What does it say about oil when Saudi Arabia embraces solar?

Everybody wants to know what the oil minister for Saudi Arabia thinks. These days, it's all about solar power.

He's talking about it. A lot. Perhaps more than ever before. And some people in Saudi Arabia say it's for real this time. This matters, because it shows just how much renewable power is disrupting the traditional energy industry that's dominated for more than a century.

In Vienna today, where OPEC ministers are meeting with the leaders of the world's biggest oil companies, Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi was asked an open-ended question that generated this revealing answer. 

Reporter: What would you like to hear from the oil executives over the next two days?

Al-Naimi: What do they think the future holds? ... On the whole energy spectrum. 

Reporter: What do you think is interesting that is going on right now in the energy spectrum?

Al-Naimi: Solar energy. It's an opportunity for everybody.

Why Ali Al-Naimi Isn't Interested in Oil

It's interesting because just two weeks ago, while on a panel in Paris, the minister spoke at length about the nation's ambitious plans to push into solar power, recognizing that one day its fossil fuel exports will end. Al-Naimi said Saudi Arabia will be exporting lots of  electricity, rather than oil. 

We've heard this before, but so far almost nothing has happened. Saudi Arabia, the land of constant sunshine, today has less than 50 megawatts of solar power capacity, 0.1 percent of what exists in Germany, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Much of its power comes from burning oil.

This time it's different, according to Mohamed Ramady, petroleum professor at King Fahd University in Dhahran, who said a recent reorganization of the Saudi energy industry and related government ministries will spur solar-power development.

"It is going to happen this time,'' he said


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