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The Gulf’s future is with renewables, not fossil fuel

The replacement of Russian oil and gas with Gulf fossil energy won't meet commitments to climate protection

Masdar solar plant: working towards clean energy in the Middle East

In the face of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine and the resulting need to phase out Russian energy supplies to Europe, intense discussions are under way about how other suppliers can jump in to meet the high demand for oil and gas in Europe.

German climate minister Robert Habeck has already travelled to Qatar and the UAE, as well as to the US and Canada, to purchase LNG and fracked gas. Just recently, however, Qatar refused as it is already at the limit of its production possibilities.

The need is enormous, and, according to plans by the European Commission, Europe should be completely independent from Russian fossil fuels by 2030.

However, a significant fossil replacement of Russian oil and gas by the Gulf region won’t be possible due to both commitment to climate protection reasons and resource scarcity. An expansion of the production volume in the Gulf region will simply not be possible because in many countries the maximum volume has already been reached. 

In this regard, the UAE’s Minister of Energy, Suhail Mohamed Al Mazrouei, said that ”the situation is not very encouraging” in terms of “the quantities that we can bring”. 

Replacing Russian oil and natural gas supplies in Europe with the Gulf region would only add to geopolitical tensions already emerging today. Due to the limited supply volumes in the Gulf region, increased delivery volumes of oil and gas to Europe can only lead to cutbacks in deliveries elsewhere.

A current example of this is Pakistan, where LNG ships from the Gulf region are no longer arriving.

Additionally, the fossil substitute is unacceptable for climate protection reasons. With every tenth of a degree increase in the global temperature, more regions in the Gulf will become uninhabitable over the next decade.

Sustainable solution

The only sustainable solution is a massive expansion of renewable energy, in the Gulf region itself as well in the countries that source fossil fuels from the region – first and foremost, Europe and the US. 

According to a study by the Energy Watch Group from 2021, a reliable year-round energy production with a mix of renewables and storage is cheaper than fossil and nuclear energy production even in Germany. 

The study shows that even before the Russian war in Ukraine there were high energy price increases, which have now made renewable energy unbeatably cheap compared to fossil and nuclear energy. 

Replacing Russian energy by fossil energy from the Gulf region would therefore be problematic, no matter how many visits European politicians make to this end. Only building up a renewable, reliable supply infrastructure – precisely because this is cheaper – will help.

The Gulf region would therefore be advised to see the expansion of renewable energies as an opportunity for its own energy demand and industrial development. By setting up factories in the solar industry, but also in storage and seawater desalination technologies on the rapidly growing global market, the region could build up a large industrial economy. 

Transforming its energy system to a renewable one is the best way forward, both economically and to avoid further environmental harm.

Hans-Josef Fell, founder and president of the Berlin-based Energy Watch Group