Yemen & Dubai may be at War, but both are going Solar Big Time

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

There is big news on the solar energy front, with the price of panels and installation falling rapidly and popular adoption of it for novel purposes. It occurred to me after I made this list that two of the stories, about Yemen and Dubai, concern countries at war with one another. They are very different, with the United Arab Emirate one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and Yemen one of the poorest. Both are going solar, the UAE top-down and Yemen from the bottom up. Both stories point to a solar future.

1. The cost of building a solar power plant has fallen by 25% in the past 5 months alone. In particular, the bid let in Dubai recently for solar-provided electricity at 2.4 cents a kilowatt hour is breathtakingly low. Nuclear plants typically cost 11 cents a kilowatt hour, and cheap but deadly coal is 5 cents a kilowatt hour. Of course, Dubai is very sunny. But since in much of the world, solar is now demonstrably cheaper (often a lot cheaper) than coal, we’ve now reached an inexorable turning point. Solar is the future, people just don’t know it yet. Unfortunately, we need a Manhattan Project style government initiative to switch everything over to renewables ASAP. The market and technology will do the job, but they will take too long for us to avoid the consequences of man-made climate change.


2. Cloudy Britain produced more electricity from solar panels for the first six months of 2016 than it did from coal-fired power plants! Coal is extremely toxic when burned, putting mercury and other nerve poisons into the air and water, causing lung problems from soot, and in addition to which it is one of the highest producers of lethal carbon dioxide, which causes global warming. This remarkable piece of good news, unimaginable only half a decade ago, is tempered by the anti-environment policies of the Conservative government of Theresa May, which has harmed the move to solar, what with being in the back pocket of BP and other big hydrocarbon interests.

3. In the past year, sales of solar panels in war-torn Yemen have increased by over 2,000 percent. Every neighborhood in the capital of Sanaa is said now to have several solar installation businesses. Intensive bombing, including of civilian infrastructure, by the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in the country in 2015, has knocked out what little electricity provision there was in the capital. North Yemen is largely held by the Houthi militia that originated among Zaydi Shiites, who are allied with Yemen Army units loyal to deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh. It had made a bid to take over the entire country, but the Saudis and their allies pushed it out of the southern port of Aden, which is largely Sunni. Sanaa residents, deprived of government-supplied electricity, have turned in a big way to solar panels.

4. The price of solar power in India has fallen 40% in the past 18 months. Since India plans to put in 100 gigawatts of solar-generated electricity by 2022, this bargain really helps the country’s bottom line. India is also planning to crisscross the subcontinent with fully solar-powered electric trains.

5. By the end of this year, 65% of the electricity used by Stanford University will come from solar. The university actually built its own solar plant in Kern County. This contrasts to the University of Michigan, a dirty hydrocarbon hog, where only 3% of its electricity comes from renewables. Divestment campaigns are all very well, but I don’t understand why college students– whose lives will be ruined by climate change– don’t protest on campus about how carbon-polluting their institutions of higher education are! We’re supposed to be scientists and building responsible citizens. Universities are major carbon polluters. I think Michigan puts out over 600,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, probably more than some smaller global south countries. Its plans to fix this are anemic in the extreme and, indeed, a national disgrace.

6 Responses

  1. Much of the Middle East has three things right now: lots of sun, lots of unoccupied land, and in varying amounts, lots of money (though the falling price of oil has hurt a lot of economies).

    Oil cannot be burned much longer and frankly, oil has been burned at dangerous levels for several decades. In the time that is left before fossil fuels collapse (and they will), the Middle East countries with money need to install solar. They probably also need to set up desalination plants that are environmentally sound (I believe some of this is already happening).

    There are clearly places in the Middle East where good agriculture land exists but where no water is regularly available and well water has dried up. That’s just one of several possibilities that solar and desalination can provide.

    I have no idea how much of this can be done. Columbia is already an oil country that was capable of seeing the future and refused to adjust to it. But for those who are capable of planning for the future, the time to transition is now, not after the money is gone. The rest of the world has profited from fossil fuels as much as the Middle East. So they may have to be involved in helping oil countries in the Middle East transition from fossil fuels.

    • Craig,
      Nice analysis, but you need to factor that the middle-eastern countries are as addicted to oils as the western world is. The only different is that the oil-producing countries are not addicted to the oil it self, they are addicted to to money it brings. And this addiction is much more difficult to cure.

      Changing your transportation energy source from oil to electricity, hydrogen, 2nd gen biofuels, is much more easier that changing your entire economy ! Currently Saudia, UAE, Kuwait, Iraq are entirely dependent on oil for source for money. They will need to adjust to a totally new world and frankly from what I see in the middle east, those countries cannot handle any change.

      My speculation is that once oil demand will dwindle, those countries will collapse – into the Arab “game of throne” winter.

  2. As a commercial airline pilot, I am amazed on the number of buildings in Germany, not known for sun, having solar panels, vs, Phoenix and Los Angeles, which are known for sun, but very few buildings have solar.
    Pathetic stupidity comes to mind, but, I am open to other reasons.

  3. Assume a nation state that relied on carbon based exports for its wealth, now no longer has a market for its exports. What can it do to create new sources of wealth? Is it possible to be competitive with industrial giants like China in the export of finished goods, or the intellectual resources to compete with an interconnected world full of smart people? If the state does not have the natural resources to feed its population how can it pay to import food and other necessary products for survival?

    Going 100% renewable is a good start towards survival when the oil no longer has a market, but what next? The world is full of poverty stricken nation states that are, for a variety of reasons, unable to improve. Maybe a master plan is needed.

  4. Here is a master plan.Victor Hugo, a French writer and Author of “Les Miserables” once said: “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” That time is now! has a ten minute video on You Tube that is free to the public. It points out that the world spends about 2 trillion dollars a year related to war and gives us two choices: ———– If we are to survive we must not choose the second option.
    Hope you will encourage others to view this video and discuss our life strengthening options. What would the world be like if we quit living in fear and redirected our intelligence, energy and resources?

    John Lennon wrote in his song, “Imagine all the people
    living life in peace…I hope someday you’ll join us
    and the world will live as one”.

    We are the ones we have been waiting for. We cannot afford to wait any longer.
    Ed Patton

Comments are closed.