The world may have to live on a lot less Saudi Arabian crude towards the end of this decade as rampant internal demand eats into oil exports and the kingdom's alternative energy plans may prove too little too late.
The top crude exporter is already burning more than 10 percent of its output in power plants on hot summer days. Meanwhile huge fuel subsidies, which have helped sedate Saudi social unrest throughout the Arab Spring, are exacerbating a demand boom that is lapping up the world's largest oil reserves.
Faced with ever increasing quantities of its biggest export earner being consumed at home, Riyadh is banking on a massive nuclear plant building programme to drastically reduce oil use from around 2020, with solar power bridging the gap.
But that may not be quick enough to avert a supply crunch by the end of the decade for a world economy still hooked on abundant Saudi crude.
"Domestic consumption has been growing very fast as a result of rapid demographics, steady economic growth and heavy subsidies, with the latter leading to excess demand," said Ali Aissaooui, head of economic research at Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation in Saudi Arabia.
"With the ongoing turmoil in parts of the region, social demands are featuring prominently on top of governments' policy agenda. In this context phasing out subsidies to rein in excess demand growth has become extremely tricky," he said.
"Excess demand could affect the capacity of some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, to maintain the spare capacity needed to provide flexibility to the global oil market."
Thanks to huge subsidies, which the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned last week encourage waste, Saudi energy demand has been growing much faster than its non-oil economy in the last few years, while the rest of the world has become more efficient in its energy use.
According to analysts at Riyadh-based Jadwa Investment, oil demand in the kingdom rose by 22 percent between 2007 and 2010, out pacing the Chinese oil demand growth rate despite China's economy expanding almost three times faster.
Official data shows Saudi oil consumption rose by more than 5 percent a year from 2003-2010 to an average of 2.4 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2010. BP statistics put it closer to 2.8 million bpd last year, up 7.1 percent from 2009.
The head of state oil firm Saudi Aramco admitted last year that unless internal demand is controlled the amount of oil left for export could fall by 3 million bpd to less than 7 million bpd by 2028.
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