Despite not being blessed with the kind of oil reserves its neighbours had or perhaps because of it, the Emirates is widely seen as the leader in the region on matters of innovation and trendspotting.
A miracle of planning, the main city in the Emirates, Dubai, has the distinction of being the 6th most visited city in the world, showing the way in how to create a tourist magnet in the desert.
And now the leaders are ready to adapt again with the intent of transitioning to sustainable energy.
At the core of this transition is the 13.7 billion dollar Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park at Seih Al Dahal in Dubai. A brand new and clean technology innovation centre stands tall amidst a desert. Plans include construction over the next few years of a 260-metre tower with concentrated solar power’ (CSP) technology, uses highly polished mirrors to focus sunlight and generate and store heat. To be used to power turbines and generate power virtually on demand. Once this solar farm is completed in 2030, it is expected to produce 5,000 MW using various solar solutions.
However, this would cover only a fraction of the power demand of this nation. The Emiratis are among the highest electricity consumers in the world with demands reaching 105 billion KWh in 2013. At present only 1% of the UAE’s power generation is supplemented by renewable energy according to data provided by IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency), but also highlighting that the country’s commitment to the energy transition is real. As the more oil or gas the UAE burns to generate and meet its electricity demands, the less it has left for exports – the key economic driver of the country.
“Although importing cheap natural gas makes economic sense, the trade-off will be the country’s energy security,” said Zoheir Hamedi, A Middle East expert at IRENA. Especially in a region considered geo-politically volatile by all accounts. Recent disputes with Qatar, their biggest gas supplier have re-raised the biggest question the UAE faces: What will it do once it runs out of oil?
The government has pledged to invest 163 billion dollars into projects similar to the state of the art solar park in Dubai to produce roughly half of its power supply from clean energy sources by 2050. Morphing a new and improved energy landscape of UAE, which is now betting on renewables for its prosperity.
Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, the UAE’s minister of climate change and environment, told ‘This Week’ his country has been creating a new economic engine from scratch, using the same strategy it adopted to create is massive oil sector.
In much the same way the UAE’s oil potential lured in global companies’ decades ago, “our ambition in developing renewable energy has also attracted many global clean-tech businesses,” said Al Zeyoudi. Solar equipment manufacturers such as First Solar and Almaden have set up offices in UAE, targeting the large demand in the market and the overabundance of solar potential which is due to one of the highest rates sun exposure in the world.
High wind capacity and joint venture arrangements offered by the government to any potential foreign investors to set up and operate Geothermal and Nuclear power plants, these combine to give a high latent for renewable energy development. The most essential element of this transition bid is the political willingness of the government to go all the way in securing the country’s future.