RIYADH: Clean energy technologies which include solar and wind power are not completely clean as there could be lifecycle emissions associated with these power generation methods, according to Shihab Elborai, partner at consulting business Strategy& Middle East.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News on the sidelines of the 44th conference of the International Association for Energy Economics, Elborai said that fossil fuels are required to develop solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, transformers and cables for the grid, which may create a spike in carbon emissions if clean energy technologies are being rolled out at an exponential speed all across the globe.
“There are lifecycle emissions associated with clean energy technology. So, clean energy technologies are not really absolutely clean. There are 50 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt produced from solar panels. Around 10 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour are produced from wind turbines,” said Elborai.
He added: “If these (clean energy) technologies are deployed at an exponential rate without an equivalently rapid clean up of the supply chain, then we can end up with a situation where, in the short term, we have a spike of CO2 emissions, even though we are reducing emissions in the long term.”
According to Elborai, a large amount of carbon dioxide released while deploying clean energy technologies at a high pace will remain in the atmosphere, which will negatively impact the sustainable journey.
“Everybody understands the repercussions of acting too slow in the energy transition. There are impacts of also acting too fast,” he noted.
He added that the right rate of deployment is necessary for a smooth energy transition, void of unintended climate consequences.
During the talk, Elborai noted that technology has a huge role to play to reduce the carbon footprint in the supply chain.
Elborai further pointed out that the exact time required for energy transition cannot be determined, as the timeframe is dependent on several factors.
“I think this (time for energy transition) is something that needs to be studied and modeled. It is something that depends on the progress that is being made in developing technologies and in the deployment of carbon capture. It will change with time as these technologies evolve as well. So it’s something that needs to be constantly monitored and adjusted. It’s not a simple answer,” he said.
He also emphasized the role of recycling critical minerals to reduce emissions in the mining sector.
“There is also a role that recycling can play. If we are using materials that have already been mined, and we are closing the cycle at the end of life, then that can have a role to mitigate the impact. But really, the key measure that needs to be taken is to carefully think about the deployment of renewable technologies. Not too fast, not too slow, just right,” he added.
Elborai went on to say that carbon capture technology has a crucial role in accelerating energy transition in a sustainable manner.
“Using carbon capture as a means of removal or closing the cycle on the carbon is one of the very important measures for managing the spike in emissions during the transition,” added Elborai.
According to Elborai, Saudi Arabia has an advantaged position in both renewables and traditional sources of energy, as the world sails toward sustainability.
“The Kingdom is in a very advantaged position, as Saudi Arabia has a strong advantage in producing conventional (energy). It will be the last standing player or supplier of gas and oil. The Kingdom also has a huge advantage when it comes to solar, wind, and renewable resources,” said Elborai.
He added: “So, at every point in that transition, the Kingdom can actually produce the product that meets the requirements of the end users of energy globally. The Kingdom is definitely a winner when it comes to the energy transition.”