NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia is “very deeply involved” in efforts to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, according to John Kerry, US President Joe Biden’s special envoy for climate.
He highlighted the green hydrogen initiative in NEOM, the mega-city development in northwestern Saudi Arabia, as a “very significant potential contributor to a transition in our energy mix right now.”
The $5 billion project to build the world’s largest green hydrogen production facility is a joint venture between NEOM, US chemical company Air Products & Chemicals, and the Kingdom’s ACWA Power.
Kerry’s comments came as he concluded a trip that included stops in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. It was the envoy’s second official visit to the region in recent months, in a year described by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “make it or break it” for action to confront the global climate emergency.
The Kingdom is already playing its part. In March, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman unveiled the Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives, which aim to reduce carbon emissions in the region by 60 percent through the use of clean hydrocarbon technologies and the planting of 50 billion trees, including 10 billion in the Kingdom.
Kerry said that Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Salman has set out a “very developed, well-thought-out plan for how to make (that) transition and where (the Saudis) see the opportunity to reduce emissions in the largest amounts.”
He added: “The project at NEOM (seeks) to deploy a massive amount of solar — which Saudi (Arabia) can do both in its ability to purchase as well as produce solar panels — but (also) to use that as the energy provider for the electrolysis process that is necessary at a commercial scale to separate hydrogen from water and create green hydrogen.
“The Saudi ability to pump the hydrogen through pipes and deliver to Europe, Africa or elsewhere is very significant. And Saudi Arabia is in a position now to be able to invest, itself, a certain amount of that money. It doesn’t have to rely on external financing to make this happen.”
Kerry underscored the importance of accelerating the move toward green hydrogen to reduce the dependence on coal.
“The sooner we can begin to reduce the levels of coal that are in too many economies around the world, the greater the chance that we have to be able to meet our goal of holding temperature increase to 1.5 degrees,” he said.
“Saudi Arabia has defined a project of great interest, of great possibility. Now it remains to implement it and we intend (to) work with Saudi Arabia to make sure that that happens.”
The form of US cooperation will depend on “what Saudi Arabia wants from us,” Kerry said. Riyadh has expressed a “genuine interest in having help in terms of technology and (how) to work through the administrative and developmental challenges that exist in something like that, so that we can expedite the deployment as fast as possible,” he added.
American banks have allocated $4.16 trillion in the coming years to what they consider “worthy (renewable-energy) projects that have revenue streams that are commercially viable,” Kerry said. He pointed out that this amount is a floor and not a ceiling.
“We hope to bring to the table that capital, which can accelerate the deployment of the new technologies, particularly this green hydrogen project, and hopefully even push the curve on technology innovation,” he added.
“That could be very exciting for everybody. So, we look forward to defining with the Saudi Ministry of Energy, and others, exactly how we will develop this partnership in a very fulsome and robust way.”
The American envoy was also full of praise for the efforts of authorities in the UAE to increase the use of renewable energy. He said that during his first visit to the country this year he took part in a “comprehensive and extremely productive” conference hosted by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. It brought together representatives of 11 nations in the region, many of them oil producers.
“The UAE has been one of the leaders, way beyond a lot of other countries,” Kerry said. “They’ve deployed already one of the largest solar fields in the world and they’re planning more.
“They have a number of major solar projects that are under research. They’re involved in green hydrogen research. They’ve taken a very proactive role in the regional dialogue that took place and helped to produce a very strong statement about the actions which will guide all of us going forward. And I think they’re contemplating even more moves now regarding net zero by 2050.”
He congratulated the UAE for its “level of leadership, engagement, creativity and readiness to embrace the urgency of the challenge,” adding: “That makes (the UAE) a leader and that’s what you need right now: It’s leadership, in order to use these next two years to their fullest.”
In Egypt, Kerry said, Washington will work with Cairo as the latter plans to launch new projects to expand its renewables base.
“Egypt is very, very committed to (rapidly) deploying renewable-energy projects and the (Egyptian) prime minister could not have been more clear,” he said.
“We’re all in this together. No one nation can solve the problem of climate crisis — it’s physically impossible. We all have to join together and this will be a test for every country: whether or not they are truly prepared to be part of a solution to what is an existential crisis already for many people, and will be a growing one for people all across the planet.”