Instead Of Tesla, Saudi Arabia Should Invest In Battery Tech
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), a sovereign wealth fund currently with over $200 billion in assets, is said to be considering a major investment in Elon Musk’s
Still others report that the PIF is not interested in any such deal at all. In any case, it is clear that Saudi Arabia is interested in a “hedge” against oil. After all, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammad, has been speaking for over two years about ending the country’s “addiction to oil.” Well, if that is the goal, there is a simple strategy that is much more promising than a Tesla investment and would simultaneously improve the Saudi economy and employment numbers.
Saudi Arabia should take money it might invest in Tesla or some other equity to “hedge” oil, and instead invest in battery labs that would utilize Saudi Arabia’s economic resources and unique position to innovate the one technology that is holding back our global energy progress. We already have great ability to generate power today through everything from carbon fuels, nuclear, wind, hydro, solar and organic. However, our ability to store that power is still insufficient, and so much goes to waste. A revolution in battery technology would change our world, maybe like the steam engine did over 200 years ago.
Last fall Saudi Arabia announced plans for Neom, a massive planned industrial and tech city in the Northwest of the country. Neom is supposed to be a more open and liberal community where all nationalities are to be welcome, and business and innovation will be the clear priorities. However, this is just a dream today. It seems that only a few palaces have been built in Neom so far. It is not yet clear what will be built there. A battery lab could be an early answer.
At Neom, Saudi Arabia could build a lab to house research from scientists and engineers from around the globe. With the type of money that the PIF might invest in a Tesla or similar company, Saudi Arabia could recruit top innovators from Samsung,
Neom could present a new start for battery research. If done smart, the program would encourage wild concepts and new ideas, instead of repetition of the same old ideas. Sometimes a new start and a new environment—coupled with the exceptional financial resources of Saudi Arabia—can spark the imaginations of geniuses. The freedom to try, and even fail, is important for the success of invention.
Plus, a battery lab would facilitate the goals of the PIF Program. Two main goals of the Saudi PIF Program are to increase employment in Saudi Arabia and to increase the size of the PIF. Saudi Arabia is flush with underemployed engineers and scientists, many of whom studied in western universities. Even if the vast majority of senior positions at the battery lab were filled by foreigners, there is no reason that Saudis could not find employment in lower and mid-level positions, where they can gain experience and advance. There would be a need for geologists, chemists, physicists, electrical engineers and others.
Also, just as American professors regularly spin off their research to start for-profit businesses by licensing their own innovations from the universities that hold the IP, so could battery lab employees build businesses with licensed IP from the lab—perhaps with a mandatory headquarters in Saudi Arabia or Neom itself. This would help grow private industry in Saudi Arabia, something that is sorely needed. After all, private businesses are the backbone of any healthy economy.
If the PIF is looking for a truly ambitious but promising endeavor, build a battery lab. As Ali al Naimi, the former CEO of Saudi Aramco and the former Saudi Oil Minister once said, “Our vision is that we will be exporters of gigawatts of electricity. We will be exporting both. Barrels of oil and gigawatts of power.” There would be no better hedge against the future of oil.
Updated August 13 to reflect new statement by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.