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Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber Headshot

An Open Letter to Incoming Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz

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Dear Secretary Moniz,

Let me first congratulate you on your successful confirmation as the next United States Secretary of Energy. Your records of public service and of academic distinction speak for themselves. The American people are fortunate to have such a capable public servant in such a critical domain and at such a critical time.

The natural gas boom has provided a much needed boost to the U.S. economy; creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, triggering the replacement of coal-fired power plants with cleaner-burning natural gas power plants, and reinforcing the country's strength as a major energy player. Access to natural gas and cleaner electricity has also contributed to the 13 percent drop in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions since 2007.

But some fear a downside to this boom. This sudden glut of cheap gas has many commentators openly questioning whether the renewable energy technologies that have seen such spectacular growth in recent years still have a future. Will natural gas production threaten the renewable energy industry? Simply put, the answer is -- and must be -- no.

In the United Arab Emirates, what we have learned as energy producers is that alternatives are critical.

In many ways, the new factors facing the U.S. energy economy today have been around for years in the UAE. In addition to our abundant oil resources -- the world's seventh largest -- we enjoy cheap natural gas supplies both domestically and from regional trading partners. But we have also invested heavily in building a low-carbon, new-energy industry.

Why?

First, because relying too heavily on a single source of energy can put a country in a vulnerable position. Making macroeconomic predictions about the world energy market is tricky business, and relying on cheap gas alone is not prudent. Shale gas does not change that calculation. While natural gas might be cheap in the U.S. today, other parts of the world have not been so fortunate. Although shale gas is widespread, geological and political constraints mean that it is likely to be more costly elsewhere. Even if the U.S. trades some of its gas, which would be welcome, it is not about to flood the world's markets.

With economic and population growth also comes rapidly growing demand for energy, which will put a tremendous strain on our natural resources. With global energy markets, high prices for anyone mean high prices for everyone. And just like any country, we cannot afford to enjoy cheap energy today without investing in options for the future.

While natural gas is a much needed resource -- which will hopefully bring added stability to global markets -- it is still finite. And energy-rich countries like ours have a responsibility to extend our leadership and continue to force innovation and advance technologies like renewable energy.

Second, the outlook for renewable energy is also promising.

With falling prices and advances in technology, renewable energy will soon reach grid parity in many parts of the world. Renewable energy is growing at an unprecedented pace. In the U.S. for example, wind energy became the number one source of new electricity generating capacity for the first time in 2012. And in the first quarter of 2013, solar accounted for 94 percent of all new generating capacity in California.

But we cannot let up now.

During the energy crisis of the 1970s, America rallied to address its energy security. Congress passed reforms to reinvigorate domestic oil production and was committed to a national wind and solar energy program. But once oil prices fell, support for renewable energy fell along with them. If America had kept its huge resources of innovation and dynamism focused on the sector, renewable energy might be in an even stronger position today.

With global energy demand projected to nearly double by 2050, the world needs America's leadership, its ability to innovate, its ground-breaking universities and its educated and engaged people. And America needs to remain engaged with the industries of the future.

Rather than relying on the immediate security that hydrocarbons present, now is the time to re-up on our long-term clean energy commitment.

I wish you the best as you see your country through this exciting yet challenging period of American energy history.

Sincerely,

Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber
United Arab Emirates Minister of State and Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change