It has been said that in order for Saudi Arabia to develop 6 gigawatts of solar by 2020, TEN THOUSAND solar panels must go up every day. Well, that's what was said in a letter from Energy & Capital called, Saudi Solar Investing: Saudi Arabia's Secret Weapon. Let's just take a moment and imagine how many that is...Ok, now, let's get serious.
Known for its incredible oil reserves and low cost of extraction, Saudi Arabia, headed by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been determined to revolutionize its economy and brace itself for the future of energy. I am talking about renewable energy. Saudi Arabia is trying to position itself to take advantage of spectacular geographic gifts bestowed upon the Kingdom and eventually becoming a leader in renewable energy generation as it is for oil. Saudi Arabia, to make this a reality, has created what they call the Vision 2030, which aims to create a "journey for a deep and ambitious socio-economic change in the Kingdom" by developing a post-oil economy.
This article will provide in-depth analysis and insight regarding the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, KSA, plans to transform its oil-based economy into a sustainable economy, being more reliant on renewable energy, further permitting for budget balancing, and societal benefits, and becoming a global leader in the renewable energy generation.
Background on The Kingdom
Saudi Arabia is located on the Arabian Peninsula, in the Middle East, and is led by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The country boasts the world's 19th largest economy, which is heavily reliant on the production of oil. Traditionally, the Saudis have been a leading producer and exporter of oil, due to their incredibly low extraction costs. In fact, they rank 2nd in the world in terms of proven reserves, at 266 billion barrels of oil, equating to 18% of the world's total reserves. The middle-eastern country is also very religious, as its national religion is Islam. Religion is deeply embedded into every facet of life in Saudi Arabia, even the Vision 2030. Lastly, Saudi Arabia is gearing up for what would be the largest IPO ever, the IPO of its state-owned oil behemoth Saudi Aramco (ARMCO). Interestingly, there is much speculation that Aramco could fetch a valuation around $2 Trillion.
First, let's focus on the Vision 2030. The announcement of such blueprint was announced on April 25, 2016, by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman with Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, in an attempt to decrease dependence on oil, diversify their economy, and develop public service sectors. Essentially, the Saudis are preparing for a post-oil world by developing a post-oil economy. I want to emphasize the part about decreasing dependence on oil, meaning developing and expanding clean energy (renewable energy) and nuclear infrastructure and capacity. As part of the vision, plans are being drawn up for the country's first nuclear power stations. The plans include two reactors that would generate 2.8 GW of electricity. The last wrinkle is that by 2030, the country will generate 70% of electricity from natural gas, while the remaining 30% is produced by renewable energy. The expected amount of This extraordinary feat doesn't come cheaply, as it's estimated that investment of between $30 billion and $50 billion to attain these goals. Although, this colossal project is called the Vision 2030, it entails significant, yet reachable goals for 2023. Specifically, the vision calls for 9,500 MW, or 9.5 GW, of renewable energy capacity by 2023, with an interim target of 3,450 MW by 2020. For example, it is expected that 30 solar and wind projects will be developed over the next 10 years, according to Bloomberg. This alternative energy infrastructure should put Saudi Arabia as a leader in the adoption of renewables among its middle eastern neighbors.
The initiation of a program such as this one is a large step for a few reasons. First, it is a significant opportunity to grow its economy and allow the country to provide more for its people, increasing standards of living. Secondly, curbing emissions from a country so dependent on the production of oil tells the world that there is a time when oil will not be able to drive an economy and power our lifestyles. Furthermore, setting a foundation of infrastructure in order for there not to be a decrease in standard of living or a lag during the phasing out of oil is crucial and can be neutralized with a series of projects.
Reason For 2030 Vision
For the oil-rich kingdom, there are several developments that forced it to create and initiate these plans. Above all, the biggest reason was due to the crash in oil prices. The crash in oil taught the Saudis very valuable lessons, and that would be an understatement. Most importantly, the kingdom realized that it must dedicate more time and energy preparing for the future. The understanding of diversification and not running an economy based on one resource doesn't provide a sustainable answer for its long-term economical outlook.
Above is the chart of the Brent crude oil. The point of the chart is to demonstrate where oil was at before it crashed. When oil was trading at $100+, they were very happy people, probably doing cartwheels and backflips with massive smiles across their faces'. They were raking in money hand over fist. Then came the oil crash. In late 2014, oil began to crash, spilling into 2015 and 2016, bottoming out at $28.94.
Ok, let me side-track, while adding onto the previous info, and say that the Saudi's boast the lowest cost per barrel in the world. In 2016, according to a report by the WSJ, in an article by the Motley Fool, the Saudis maintained an average cost of $8.98, substantially lower than our Shale and Non-Shale costs of $23.35 and $20.99, respectively.
I kid you not, it, Saudi Aramco (ARMCO) really does have costs in the single digits, it's amazing. Albeit, its oil is a lot closer to the surface, so costs are less. These low costs have given Saudi Arabia, among others, significant pricing power, the ability to affect market prices worldwide for crude. In fact, here is a breakdown of its costs versus U.S. Shale costs. The first difference, and a major one, are the taxes. Secondly, the spend half of what U.S. Shale spends on Capital Spending.
From all this information, I am trying to show you that, its costs per barrel still permitted it to make a lot of money from oil. However, the lack of economical diversification and sophistication resulted in a destructive deterioration of the Saudi's revenue via Aramco.
Now, getting back to the story, the low oil prices resulted in unimaginable hits to government revenues. Those hits can be summarized below in a slide from the country's Fiscal Balance Program: Balanced Budget 2020 Presentation. Notice in 2014, government revenues were $1.110 Trillion, but as prices started to collapse, the Saudis were hit with an 11.89% decrease in revenue, equating to a difference of $132 Billion. Then as oil prices deteriorated further into 2016, this resulted in a decrease of $153 Billion, a devastating 15.6% decrease in the country's total revenues. The grave pain induced on the country and its citizens as a result of the downturn can be summed up in an article by Business Insider, that the Saudis reported a budget deficit "for 2015 hit $98 billion." Later citing that:
"The situation is so bad that the Saudi government said petrol prices, which are usually very cheap in Saudi Arabia because of the glut of oil the country produces, may increase by 50%; and diesel, electricity, and water prices will also increase to help offset the drop in foreign revenues."
If this doesn't demonstrate the unimaginable pain and crippling from the oil crash, I don't know what will. To have gas prices spike that much in a leading oil producing country is nuts. The same can be said about diesel, electricity, and water prices. There comes a time when somebody or something hits rock bottom...
As it says above, the prices forced the government to undergo a number of fiscal reforms, one of which included: approving initiatives to increase non-oil revenues. Boooooommmmmm, it figured it out.
Let's just say 2016 was not a good year, as Standard & Poor's downgraded it to A- from a rating of A+. That wasn't it, as Fitch then entered the game, downgrading it to AA- with an outlook of Negative from a rating of AA with a Stable outlook. Then, in March, 2017, Fitch downgraded it again, this time to A+ with a Stable outlook. The oil kingdom had hit rock bottom.
Additionally, I want to portray the toll the oil prices had on its economy, by showing you its GDP growth chart. From 2014 to now, Saudi Arabia's GDP growth has been in a down trend, that has now become negative. This unfortunate phenomena is due to a heavy dependence on oil exports and lack sophistication of the Saudi's economy, inhibiting any sort of economic expansion. Just to project how dependent and concentrated on oil the kingdom is, according to a journal by the International Journal of Business and Management, "Saudi's oil revenues in 2014 amount to around 71.1% and 87.5% of total exports and total revenues, respectively" (Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency 2014 annual report). This comes to show the Saudis are in overexposed to oil as are many gulf countries.
This spell (low oil prices) hit the Saudis in the head like a shovel, and it could not have come at a better time.
The slow economic growth was a major drag for everything and created an unappealing image of the country. This was something that it did not want to be known for. Determined to find a fix and after lots of economical consulting and analysis, the beginnings of a new manifesto, one that would diversify and sophisticate the economy, was being crafted in what would eventually become the 2030 Vision. This manifesto was to build constructed around several lessons learned from the oil crisis.
The lessons learned by the Saudis included:
- Reliance on oil revenues is not sustainable.
- Oil prices can stay low for sustained periods of time - waiting it out for prices to increase is not an option.
- Government expenditure should be less responsive to oil revenues.
- A broader base of non-oil revenue is essential for a sustained fiscal position.
Of those highlighted lessons, the most emphasized are the second and last bullets. Those points are what this article is all about, and what is driving the Saudis decisions and plans to get a move on, revolutionizing their economy for future success.
I would like to briefly talk about the trajectory of Saudi Arabia's expected future budget.
Looking at this graphic that I have included below, you can see that each category has estimates ranging from Very Conservative, Conservative, and Baseline. Looking at the Revenues line, you can see in all estimates that revenue is expected to increase at strong rates; this will be more elaborated on in a minute. Expenditures are expected to rise a little and overall, staying relatively flat. The Budget Deficit/ Surplus is where things get interesting. This tab is correlated to the Revenues, which I will talk about more in a minute. Just looking at this, you can see the in the Conservative and Baseline estimates that by 2020, the Kingdom expects to reach a surplus. Yet, all three estimates call for significantly reduced Deficit by 2020. Lastly, I would like to comment on the amount of Public Debt which will also be talked about, but the last two estimates expect the debt to retreat from highs made in 2019, which I think in subsequent years will continue to decrease.
Fiscal Balance Program Presentation
According to the presentation, the estimates all call for increased revenue, however, the chart doesn't clarify where it expects the growth to come from. Looking at the graph below, the Saudis expect Non-oil Revenues to continue to increase every year, with SAR $42 Billion in 2017 eventually hitting SAR $152 Billion in 2020. This expected amount would make up at least 10% of revenues in each estimates. This majestic growth of non-oil revenues will be lead by the growth of alternative energy.
The growth of the industry would lead government revenues higher, while all estimates expect that expenditures will remain relatively flat, with a little bump. The drastic increase in revenues minus the much slower growing expenditures would lead to a Net Gain for the Saudis. Such gain is what is presented in the chart, ultimately expecting a Budget Surplus by 2020, and significant budget deficit decreases. Having the Budget Surplus would allow for reducing the Public Debt and increasing the Government Balances as well.
Paris Climate Accord
Back in 2015, in Paris, a conference called the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP 21, took place. This meeting was to bring together countries from all over the world to construct the framework for a massive agreement that would attempt to combat, the heavily publicized topic of, Climate Change. Eventually, the Paris Climate Accord was ratified by all 196 countries in attendance on December 12, 2015. To combat Climate Change, the agreement aims at keeping the rise in global temperatures this century below 2 degrees Celsius below pre-industrial levels, while also pursuing efforts to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Put more simply, a monstrous reduction in countries' individual greenhouse emissions must be executed to keep global temperatures below the 2 degrees Celsius. The member countries intend to achieve this the goals of this accord, by bolstering investment into clean energy infrastructure and rapid adoption of Carbon Capture and Sequestration, also known as CCS, among a laundry list of additional things. The agreement calls for zero greenhouse gas emissions to be reached during the second half of the 21st century. According to scientists, it is much believed that in order to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius, it would require zero emissions between 2030 and 2050.
The Vision 2030, created by the oil-rich Kingdom, is a gargantuan step in the right direction to meet its goals as part of the Paris Climate Accord. Being so heavily enmeshed in the oil industry, naturally, there were skeptics debating whether or not, Saudi Arabia would hold true to the agreement. Just recently, however, Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih was quoted saying,
"For our part, the kingdom will remain committed to maintaining our national contributions on taking climate actions that would also enable sustainable development in line with Saudi Vision 2030."
This was a clear message sent by Mr. Khalid al-Filah backing the country's responsibility and aspirations to aid the world in fighting climate change. By starting out with "For our part" is an immediate tell that the kingdom is serious about reaching its goals and is willing to put in the work to hold up its part of the agreement. If you think critically, you will realize that the outline of the Vision 2030 is spot on with the goals of the Paris Climate Accords.
Saudi's Location and Geography
Understanding Saudi Arabia's location and geography is crucial to discerning the future of alternative energy in the country. This information can tell us how viable, and what sort of future alternatives may play in its visionary economy. This special country has two seasons: Summer and Winter. The majority of the western part of KSA is a plateau, while the east is lowland with a very hot climate.
Being surrounded on its eastern and western sides by the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, respectively, Saudi Arabia is the largest of the Gulf countries. Just like many middle eastern countries, Saudi Arabia is large desert and has lots of sand dunes. In fact, the Saudis boast the larger sand desert in the world. Rub' al Khali, or The Empty Quarter, is the largest continuous sand desert in the world, covering about 250,000 sq. mi., with small portions in Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
The country's climate is unfathomably hot and dry, with relatively low humidity. I really do not want to tell you how hot it gets in summers just because it's, like I said "unfathomably hot", but for the sake of providing information and knowledge, I'll say. During summers, temperatures can reach well over 45 degrees Celsius. Folks, this equates 113 degrees Fahrenheit, and as previously said, it gets well over that... yikes, I am sweating already. You see why I did not want to tell you. Along the coast, the climate stays constant year-round, maintaining a maximum temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, the southwest part of KSA includes mountains that reach more 9,800 ft above sea level.
The oil Kingdom is in a pristine location, as it receives incredible amounts of sunlight year round, providing amazing solar power opportunities. However, there a good number of sand storms, and after all, it is hard to build in sand. Additionally, being located on two bodies of water and having high areas, Saudi Arabia does have potential for large wind energy as well.
Saudi Arabia has a major gift. Most people would say it's oil but it's not; its location is. The location being in the desert, being the most optimal location on earth for Solar Power.
In a report by Mohamed Ahmed Mohandes and Shafiqur Rehman published in The Journal of Energy and Power Engineering, they provide a date table, below, that shows the long-term daily average amount of sunlight and Irradiance (W/m2) received in 35 areas of the country, which have been recorded since 1970. Irradiance is the amount of light energy from one thing hitting a square meter of another each second. It is measured in watts per square meter.
The report finds that "KSA receives, on average, more than 5,500 W/m2 of solar radiation each day on horizontal surface." This data had a minimum of 4,493 W/m2 at Tabuk, and a maximum of 7,014 W/m2 at Bisha. The highest values of solar radiation were found in the Southern part of the country, while the lower values mostly derived from areas in the North. These numbers are quite impressive as they rank very high in the world. However, the impressive irradiance measurements are a result of the amount of time the sun shines.
The amount of sunlight an area receives will be affected by how long the sun shines daily. The same report concluded that the average sunshine duration from all 35 locations comes out to be a whopping 8.89 hours per day. On an annual basis, this figure equates to a whopping 3,245 hours each year. First off, keep in mind that those figures are just averages per city, not the entire country as a whole. So, let me put into perspective how much this is, Los Angeles, one of the sunniest locations in the world, receives about 3,254.2 hours of sunlight per year.
Journal of Energy and Power Engineering
For the AVERAGE city in Saudi Arabia to boast those kinds of numbers, in terms of irradiance and sunlight hours, speaks immensely to the viability of solar. Having the sun shine for such a duration and so intensely hands the Kingdom, one of the most advantageous solar opportunities in the world. Next, I would like to talk about how the country is progressing in its quest of a more diverse economy, in terms of the solar industry.
Latest on Solar Industry
According to Energy & Capital, if the Kingdom wanted to provide all electricity by going 100% renewable energy via Solar, it would take 141 Gigawatts, GW, of installed solar that would generate 226.2 Billion kWh. In order to do this, it claims it would take an area containing the dimensions of 33 miles x 33 miles; due to the sheer size for a massive project like that, the price tag would be a whopping $190 Billion. Honestly, I do not know exactly how viable this is, so let's just talk about what has already happened to fulfill its dreams.
Just recently, Saudi Arabia obtained the cheapest bids for solar power in the world, according to a report by Bloomberg. Masdar and Electricite de France SA (OTCPK:ECIFF) (EDF) offered to supply power for an incredible 1.78 cents/Kilowatt hour. The bid came in to supply power from a 300 MW Solar PV plant. This rate is unheard of, and it obliterates the previous record of 2.42 cents, which was offered for a project in Abu Dhabi. This project will be situated in Sakaka, the Al Jouf Province in the north.
Although this unbelievable rate is not expected to be the "base rate" paid at peak demands, it shows just how far costs have come down, making solar increasingly competitive. To add on, this project would be the first awarded in its expansion of the $50 Billion renewable energy program.
Now, let's discuss how the country with near a tailor-made climate was able to land an offer as outrageous as the one talked about. To start off, in general the more capacity that is installed, the lower the costs go because it is cheaper to produce equipment and everything else in bulk rather than a few pieces at a time. A good example would be a wholesale retailer like Costco (COST) or Sam's Club (WMT) vs. normal retailers like Kroger (KR) or Target (TGT). The wholesale retailers are able to sell their products at cheaper prices because the customers are willing to buy products in higher quantities, this doesn't apply to the normal retailers. The chart above, provided by the University of Lafayette, demonstrates how it expect costs associated with solar to continue to fall, in terms of a PV system. Furthermore, the Bloomberg article goes on to explain what has resulted in the reduction of costs associated with solar and they site that,
"improving and less costly technology, free land earmarked for the plants, connections to the national power grid, and favorable financing have helped the costs."
The efficiency of solar panels will be very important as the more efficient solar panels become, the less required to reach their goal. On the other hand, the same amount of solar panels would produce more energy. In a report by the University of Lafayette about solar panel efficiency, it is expected that by 2020, solar panel efficiency will achieve 25%. This would be a huge feat for the industry.
These traits have been and will continue to be influential for Saudi Arabia to achieve its solar generating aspirations outlined in the vision. As technology continues to become more and more efficient converting sunlight to energy and costs decrease, one can only imagine how cheap the Saudis will be able to attain prices for solar.
When you think of renewable energy potential in Saudi Arabia, most people think of solar. However, Saudi Arabia does in fact offer a sizable potential for wind energy. A study published in 2002 by the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals called Wind power cost assessment at twenty locations in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, offers research into the how the cost of wind energy per kWH at 20 locations scattered across KSA varies based on different wind energy produced from three different wind machines of distinct capacities: 2,500, 1,300, and 600 kilowatts. To find the costs, the study uses the mean hourly values of wind speed to draw duration curves. The data collected represents values that have been recorded from between 5.5-23 years. The lowest costs for the three systems of 2,500, 1,300, and 600 kilowatts was found to be 0.0234, 0.0295, and 0.0438 US$/kWh at Yanbo, respectively. On the other hand, the maximum costs for the same systems were 0.0706, 0.0829, and 0.121 US$/kWh at Nejran, respectively. Those costs are still incredibly low and offer incredible insight to people of the real potential that wind has in the country.
Although, the machines used were not the massive 4.8 MW turbines made by GE (GE), the scale offered in the report shows the feasibility of them and the ability to scale upward. I highly recommend that you should read that report to fully understand how the data collected validates and portrays the substantial potential of wind energy in KSA.
Additionally, there is another report published in 2015 by the International Journal of Applied Sciences and Technology called Solar and Wind Energy Potential in the Tabuk Region, Saudi Arabia, that focuses on the wind potential in Tabuk, KSA. Tabuk is a region in the northwest that offers several places such as Haql that offer real potential for wind farms based on fabulous wind speeds and durations. The study also cites the previously talked about report, as well as other subsequent reports. It is a fascinating piece that focuses more on the wind speeds than costs for just the Tabuk region.
Latest On Wind Industry
The advancement of wind energy in Saudi Arabia is slowly becoming reality. Currently, the country is undergoing a large bidding process for a number of projects. Specifically, the final round of bidding for a 400 MW project in the Midyan in the northwest is set to close in January 2018. The project has received bids from 25 companies, including Acciona Energy, EDF Energies Nouvelles, Enel Green Power, Enercon, Siemens Project Ventures, Nordex, Vestas and Goldwind. This project will be backed by a 20 year Power Purchase Agreement, or PPA.
This trend of wind in Saudi Arabia is just the start of something bigger. In an article analyzing the financing of Saudi Arabia wind energy aspirations, the Head of Energy and Environment Finance at privately held Ernst & Young, Ben Warren, told Wind Power Monthly:
"I think Saudi will [be a catalyst]. If you look at the Gulf states they are all looking at each other, dancing around handbags waiting to see who goes first. Saudi, if it all gets developed it will certainly be the kickstart the region needs."
The idea of Saudi Arabia acting as a kickstarter for other countries in the region to act on the potential of wind power is mind-blowing. In fact, the article cites that Egypt has "ambitious wind plans that were mothballed from Saudi Arabia's spring uprising". Additionally, upon further research, the United Arab Emirates, UAE, also has enacted a lofty wind energy plan. This goes to show that Saudi Arabia is becoming a leader in the Middle East, leading the charge of wind power, and making others realize the real potential countries can thusly benefit from.
Whenever the term "Nuclear" comes up, peoples' faces quickly change to a look of concern. Being synonymous with North Korea and mass destruction, nuclear anything usually doesn't make for great conversation topics. However, nuclear power is a process of using fission (for now until fusion comes along) to generate heat that is used in steam turbines.
It is widely expected that Saudi Arabia's local energy consumption is to increase three fold by 2030. Think about that for a moment... energy consumption increase of 3 FOLD. That is bonkers. Ok so, with that being said, nuclear power is a source of energy that is able to create immense of electricity. On the contrary, for a long time, there has been mass controversy about whether or not nuclear power shall be used as the process leaves the producers with enormous amount of radioactive material. There has never really been a great way of disposing it. On top of that, opponents to nuclear power believe that these plants with all this radioactive material being used and its byproduct could result in unimaginable catastrophes. Through all this, I am firm believer in the ability of nuclear power considering the benefits greatly outweigh the risks, risks like Chernobyl or Fukushima, that happen so very rarely.
Additionally, nuclear power is very consistent and offers the ability to make up for down time in solar or wind that arise from unfriendly generating conditions. It provides an option of last resort or true continuous generating capability, all based on the kingdom's demand and what it feels fits its plan best.
This is how efficient and well nuclear power generates electricity. A single pellet used in this process that weighs less than 5 grams produces as much energy as 270 kg of oil or 450 kg of coal. Now, you see why I am a believer in nuclear energy, because it's that efficient and is a clean source of energy. Also, it is racked up some astounding green-related credentials. According to Albawaba, over the past 45 years all of the world's nuclear power plants have prevented 45 gigatons in CO2 emissions, which is equivalent to taking 400 billion cars off the roads. I cannot even comprehend how much that is. That is mind-boggling. This comes to show why nuclear power should be used in diverse energy generating portfolio for a country, especially one trying to cut down emissions to meet goals related to certain world climate agreements.
Latest on Nuclear Industry
Saudi Arabia wants to start construction in 2018 on two nuclear plants with a total capacity of 2.8 GW. The process for bids started in October of 2017, and the Saudis have said "competition will be fierce". It was widely expected that Riyadh was going to issue Requests for Information, RFI's, to five bidders: South Korea, China, France, Russia, and Japan.
On that note, in the longer term Saudi Arabia has some ambitious plans of their own in regards to nuclear power generation. KSA is planning on erecting, get this, 17.6 GW of nuclear power by 2032. That will surely help them meet the three fold increase in demand. That 17.6 GW figure is equivalent to about 17 nuclear reactors, which according to Reuters (TRI), is the largest contract in the world, outside of South Africa and India.
Being able to incorporate nuclear energy into a country's portfolio offers that country lots of generating capacity and flexibility. The steps taken by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to include nuclear will demonstrate to other countries the advantages of this power source and be at the forefront of Middle Eastern nuclear power adoption.
The Vision 2030 created and adopted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be a boon for future economic growth through diversifying their economy by weening off their reliance on Black Gold. Increasing investment in renewable energy generating assets will serve the country well in the long term, providing countless jobs and revenue streams for the government. KSA now recognizes there is a life after oil and is doing their part to uphold its part of world climate agreements, such as the Paris Climate Accord. The Vision 2030 will see the transformation of Saudi Arabia from an oil producing country into a global clean energy leader. In the future, I expect that analysts will focus not on how much revenues pertaining to oil were brought in, but the growth an percentage of government revenues from non-oil operations. I am honestly excited to see what magical concoctions this plan will do to boost the economy and standard of living for the citizens of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
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