Middle East Research and Information Project: Critical Coverage of the Middle East Since 1971

For many, especially in the United States, the Arab world is closely associated with fossil fuels. But over the past several years, a raft of news articles, opinion pieces and analyses have hailed the advent of renewable energy—especially solar power—in Arab countries. Many such pieces open with images meant to defy the reader’s expectations. In the first line of an essay in The Atlantic titled, “Why the Saudis Are Going Solar,” the author notes that according to his first impression, “Everything about [Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia] seemed to suggest Western notions of a complacent functionary in a complacent, oil-rich kingdom.” Yet he was surprised to find that “Turki doesn’t fit the stereotype, and neither does his country” because of the prince’s leadership in Saudi Arabia’s drive to develop a domestic solar industry. In a similar vein, an Economist article on the blossoming of solar energy in the developing world opens with an anecdote about solar arrays being built in an arid part of Jordan, accompanied by a Getty Images photograph of a solar panel resting in front of a sand dune in an unidentified locale—solar power making the desert bloom, so to speak. Also fitting this pattern, the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2016 misleadingly summarizes a “New Policies” scenario for Middle East power generation that includes oil, gas, nuclear, hydro, wind and solar energy with the statement, “Natural gas is gradually joined by renewables as the fuel of choice.” A more accurate summary of the IEA’s own data might read, “Oil and gas continue to dominate a more diverse energy mix.”

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How to cite this article:

Zachary Cuyler "The Arab World’s Non-Linear Electricity Transitions," Middle East Report 280 (Fall 2016).
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