Special Report - Clean Energy Opportunities for Emerging Muslim World Markets

GLOBE-Net - If you think that the oil rich Gulf states have a long bonanza from ever rising oil prices, think again: According to Financial Sense (Jan 2008) and other sources, Saudi Arabia will approach zero net exports in 2031, within a range of 2024 to 2037. Other top exporters (Russia, Norway, Iran, and UAE) are in a similar range. Saudi per capita oil consumption is now the highest in the area (32.88 bbl in 2006), followed by US (25.64); with India at #20 (0.87.) New, sustainable energy (and water) sources are needed as much in oil rich Gulf States as anywhere else.

A case in point would be the edicts given by Chinese officials to run the Beijing Olympics without excessive air and water pollution for two weeks by shutting down factories and traffic for months before August of 2008. The final failure of the WTO trade talks this July underscores the East-West divide over energy and food security, issues which are inseparable in practice.

This article will take a dispassionate perspective on this very complex landscape and suggest some pragmatic avenues for developing nations (mostly in Africa and Asia), especially The Gulf, where desert conditions, soil erosion, water scarcity and little infrastructure is the norm. It will also address the issues of younger, rising populations which are just starting economic growth and consumption. Unluckily, there are no simple choices, but at least some prospects can be eliminated. So we will start with the worst and end with the most sensible ones.

What is Cleantech? Who needs it?

Cleantech implies mainly production of energy from net non-polluting sources, but it also involves storage and distribution of energy, either on its own; or in conjunction with traditional (mainly fossil) fuels, to provide efficiency and cost benefits in transition.

Under the Kyoto international protocol (or CDM, Clean Development Mechanism) there is an active exchange market for trading carbon (pollution) credits between clean and polluting companies; with a cash award as well. The World Bank estimates USD 64 billion trades in 2007. Developing countries have sought approval for more than 3,000 projects ranging from wind farms to landfill gas capture projects; 2000 are still pending, posing a challenge to mainly European polluters (US is not a signatory yet.) China captures 73% of this market, still with ample room for MENA, and Central-South-East Asian nations.

There are 3 main categories of clean fuel: solar, wind and bio-mass, in addition to hydroelectric and ocean/geo-thermal. Then there are the intertwined issues of clean water, and global warming from fossil pollution. All of these combined issues have created the need for conservation, clean fuels and greenhouse gas absorption to support transport, buildings, agriculture, and water sources.

From the Energy Information Administration (EIA) figure of projected fuel types, by 2030, renewables (including nuclear and hydroelectric) will make up about 15%, and natural gas about 25% of total supply. Natural gas thus demands a careful look as well.

Clean energy innovation: a field of many (bad) dreams

Compared to the 1970s when the West faced a supply shock but the world as a whole lacked consumption, the current situation sees consistently rising prices (and pollution costs) of fossil fuels which in turn create a critical need to find alternative (“cleantech”) sources. New Energy Finance figures show that investment in clean energy worldwide in 2007 reached USD 150 billion, up 60% from the previous year.

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