What do you do when you're basically a giant welfare state whose stability depends on keeping the money tap open, yet your population is set to double and your electricity consumption to triple by 2032?

If you're Saudi Arabia, the answer is build renewable energy as fast as you can. The first volley is a goal of 5 gigawatts of solar power by 2020. That's an enormous amount of generating capacity to build in just 9 years — fully a third of Germany's entire installed base.

The idea is that replacing the country's current energy mix with renewables will free up those fossil fuels for sale abroad, so the country doesn't go bankrupt in the process of attempting to grow its way out of potential upheaval. Can you imagine a country so rich in oil they burn it to make electricity? And yet that's how more than half of Saudi Arabia's electricity is produced. (The rest is natural gas.)

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It's a logical plan — the country's a desert, after all, so why not cover it in solar? — but there's no guarantee it will ultimately succeed. For starters, one of the reasons its electricity consumption will triple by 2032 is that the country is running out of water. Indeed, in 2012, Saudi Arabia will build the world's largest solar-powered desalination plant in the city of Al-Khafji. So the country’s new solar power capacity might all get dumped into making sure everyone doesn’t dehydrate to death.

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