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[PARIS] Saudi Arabia's oil minister predicted an eventual end to the nation's fossil fuel exports, anticipating instead the day the world's largest crude exporter will sell solar power.
"In Saudi Arabia we recognise that eventually, one of these days, we're not going to need fossil fuels," Ali Al-Naimi said at a climate conference in Paris on Thursday. "I don't know when - 2040, 2050 or thereafter. So we have embarked on a program to develop solar energy." He later said fossil fuels will still dominate the world's energy supply through 2050.
Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf oil producers are boosting power supplies to serve their economies and populations. The country, which supplies more than 10 per cent of the world's crude, is increasing its output of the fossil fuel as part of a strategy to lead Opec in defending market share against rising supplies from outside the 12-nation group.
"Al-Naimi is being realistic and looking to the future in the knowledge they can't keep burning fossil fuels and the age of oil is disappearing at a rate of knots," Professor Paul Stevens, distinguished fellow at London-based Chatham House, said by phone.
"The beauty of crude is that you can just stick it into a container and export it anywhere in the world but with power there are limits. He may talk of solar power but there are a few technological hitches to overcome before it's realistic."
Renewable energy currently accounts for about 11 per cent of global consumption and will increase to 15 per cent by 2040, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Saudi Arabia presently has less than 50 megawatts of solar power capacity, 0.1 per cent of Germany's 38 gigawatts, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance's database of renewable energy projects.
"Hopefully, one of these days, instead of exporting fossil fuels, we will be exporting gigawatts of electric power," Mr Naimi said, adding that oil prices as low as US$30 or US$40 a barrel wouldn't make solar power uneconomic.