Saudi Arabia keeps promising an electricity transition, but there is near-zero progress so far
The Kingdom continues to rely entirely on gas and oil for its electricity, but the first signs of a transition might be on the horizon
Saudi Arabia remains the only country among the G20 that relies entirely on fossil fuels.
This puts it well behind South Africa which comes in second-last with 89% fossil generation. There has been no progress towards transitioning to renewable energy in the last decade.
Insufficient data availability prohibits judging the transition in 2020.
Saudi Arabia is the only G20 country without any electricity data for 2020.
Saudi Arabia did not live up to its promises of substantial adoption of renewable energy projects.
As was the case in the past, it seems unlikely that new policies promising up to 50% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030 will be fulfilled. However, the first large scale wind projects may soon come online by 2022.
For Saudi Arabia to reduce its carbon emission in the coming decade, it has to stick to its promises. A fast and large scale adoption of wind and solar is needed to satisfy rising electricity demand and cut into the already high share of oil used for electricity generation.
Trends in 2020
Comparison with G20
X’s electricity transition in spotlight: 2015-2020
Despite perpetual promises by government officials, Saudi Arabia’s transition to renewable energy is virtually non-existent. After a decade of empty promises, the Kingdom’s share of wind and solar in the mix remains at less than 0.05%.
The only significant shift in its electricity mix has been a shift from oil generation to gas. In 2019, gas generation reached 213 TWh, an increase of 59 TWh over 2015. Simultaneously, electricity generation from oil dropped 34 TWh since 2015 to a total of 149 TWh in 2019. There is no electricity data available for Saudi Arabia in 2020, the only G20 country for which this is the case.
What happened in 2020?
Saudi Arabia continues to rely almost entirely on gas and oil for its electricity. Since there is no electricity generation data for 2020, capacity additions and 2019 data act as a proxy to judge changes in the electricity mix. Even though changes of the exact share of gas and oil in the electricity mix in 2020 remain hidden, given that no new wind and solar capacity was added, we can use 2019 values as a basis for the analysis and any comparisons with other G20 countries. The lack of renewable capacity additions also makes a start to the transition in 2021 equally unlikely.
Saudi Arabia’s transition in comparison with G20 countries
While the transition is underway in other G20 countries, Saudi Arabia is still in the starting blocks.
Most G20 countries have significantly increased their share of wind and solar over the last decade. Three countries – Russia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia – have thus far remained unphased by the global trend. Even among these countries, Saudi Arabia is the only G20 member to not add any wind and solar in 2020. This stagnation was in no way inevitable. Brazil, Japan and Mexico have all started from a position of having nearly no wind and solar in their electricity mix in 2010. However, at the end of the decade, all of them have surpassed the world average and have achieved near or above 10% market share.
Saudi Arabia is left behind as other countries transition away from fossil fuels.
Saudi Arabia is a laggard among laggards. Similar to Saudi Arabia, Russia and Indonesia show barely any wind and solar additions. However, they have managed to at least slightly reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, primarily by shedding gas and adding hydro to their electricity mix. There is no change visible for Saudi Arabia, as they continue to rely 100% on gas and oil for their electricity.
Saudi Arabia has the most fossil fuel-intensive electricity among G20 countries
Other countries that show a slow transition, such as Indonesia or Russia, benefit from nuclear and hydro generation that reduces their reliance on fossil fuels. Since Saudi Arabia currently does not use substantial sources of electricity beyond gas and oil, it is the clear leader in fossil fuel generation. Its dependence on oil puts it particularly at odds with the rest of the G20. As of 2019, 41% of electricity came from oil. The country with the next-highest share of oil is Mexico at just 11% (in 2020). With South Africa and other countries with a fossil fuel-heavy electricity mix recently beginning their transition away from fossil fuels, Saudi Arabia’s gap is set to widen further over the coming years if it does not dramatically
Demand per capita rises at a pace that is only second to China.
Saudi Arabia’s demand per capita has risen significantly over the last decade, almost overtaking South Korea for the third spot among G20 countries. At more than double the world average of 3.3 MWh per capita, the high demand of 10.4 MWh per capita emphasises the importance of a shift in electricity production in Saudi Arabia. Only China had a larger increase in demand per capita since 2010.
Saudi Arabia continues to show no significant signs of beginning its electricity transition from fossils to renewable energy. 100% of its electricity comes from gas and oil. Most other G20 countries, with a few exceptions such as Russia or Indonesia, have added wind and solar to their mix over the last five years culminating in a world average share of electricity production of 9.4% in 2020.
After a decade of no change, Saudi Arabia is repeating its strategy of promising sizable renewable energy projects with a goal of 50% of electricity coming from renewable sources by 2030. Given the government’s track record, achieving this goal seems unlikely. However, projects like the 400 MW Dumat Al-Jandal wind farm, which is due to come online in early 2022, could be a sign that Saudi Arabia’s electricity transition in the next decade will be more than just promises.
If the substantial increase of demand seen in the last decade continues, rapid additions of renewable energy to the electricity mix become even more important. Otherwise, wind and solar additions are at risk of being outpaced by demand. The use of oil to satisfy additional electricity demand is especially problematic. It is significantly more carbon intensive than natural gas. For Saudi Arabia to reduce its carbon emission in the coming decade, it has to stick to its promises. A fast and large scale adoption of wind and solar is needed to satisfy rising electricity demand and cut into the already high share of oil used for electricity generation.
Trends in 2020
Comparison with G20
This report showcases a global dataset for electricity generation & demand across 217 countries from 2000 to 2020. Data for 2020 covers 90% of the world’s electricity production.
Each year, we aim to be the earliest authoritative report to give insights into last year’s global electricity generation changes – offering an unbiased picture of the transition to fossil-free electricity.