The UAE is at the vanguard of raising awareness and advocating for increasing renewable energy as part of the global energy mix, writes H.E Dr Nawal Al-Hosany, the Permanent Representative of the UAE to The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Renewable energy is no stranger to the UAE’s vision, legacy and history. Since its beginning, the country’s founding father the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s vision was driven by a passionate belief in leading by example, and this was a key essence behind this progressive socio-economic and sustainable development that has built the UAE into a thriving global nation.
The founding father was also a tireless advocate of protecting the heritage of the land and supported a series of measures to protect the natural world and its resources. Key examples of this vision include the establishment of official institutions such as the UAE’s Federal Environment Agency, and Abu Dhabi’s Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency. It is this legacy that has shaped the country’s drive and our current leadership’s objectives in the renewable energy field. More recently, the UAE achieved significant milestones by hosting the inaugural World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi in 2008, and becoming a founding member of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2009.
Sustainability, protecting the natural world, and increasing environmental awareness are fundamental motivations behind the need to pursue renewable energy strategies. Pursuing renewable energy, however, also has key social motivations: it creates new job opportunities, and ensures energy supply to remote areas to meet the increasing demands of an environmentally-conscious world. Another key motivation is the economic dividends of renewable energy: it simply makes commercial and economic sense.
The launch of Masdar, or Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, in 2006, came on the heels of the UAE’s economic diversification efforts. A nascent industry in 2006, setting up Masdar came at the right time — as the UAE proactively decided to delve into the renewable energy industry to develop commercially viable projects locally, regionally and internationally as part of the wider Vision 2030’s plans to diversify the UAE’s economy to other sectors, explore new markets and opportunities, and diversify sources of energy for the future.
Masdar’s establishment was not only limited to implementing strategic renewable energy projects. Its aim, which continues to this day, is to advance research, development and innovation in clean technologies, deliver knowledge and industry platforms to stimulate further growth in both the renewable energy and clean technology industry, and to continue identifying key geographies where renewable energy projects can be implemented with maximum efficiency.
Those platforms include the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, a global platform for accelerating the world’s sustainable development, and to accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable and inclusive world through action. Aimed at strengthening the UAE’s position as the global leader in sustainable development, ADSW has grown over the years, from 84 countries and 11,000 attendees participating in 2008; to 175 countries and 38,000 participating in 2019.
Another platform is the Zayed Sustainability Prize, established in 2008 as the Zayed Future Energy Prize, in honour of the UAE’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and his legacy in sustainability and humanitarianism. However, in 2018, the prize evolved and expanded, as it sought to increase its international reach and further its impact for innovators in core areas of sustainable development.
Women in Sustainability, Environment and Renewable Energy (WiSER) is another strategic platform launched by Masdar in 2015, and is dedicated to inspiring women and girls to play an active role in addressing global sustainability challenges.
Masdar’s practical steps began when it launched its first flagship renewable energy project in Spain: Gemasolar. Completed in 2011, Gemsolar was then the world’s first utility-scale solar power plant to combine a central tower receiver system and molten salt storage technology enabling electricity supply 24-hours-aday. Masdar’s first project in Spain reflected its desire to identify strategic opportunities in key geographies that already possess existing renewable energy technologies. The Gemasolar project was a key learning journey for Masdar.
Today, the company has delivered on several other groundbreaking international projects including the London Array offshore wind farm in the UK — the second largest offshore wind farm currently in operation — and Masdar’s latest investment in the UK, Hywind, the world’s first commercial scale floating offshore wind farm.
Other projects include the Tafilah wind farm in Jordan, the first commercial utility-scale wind farm in the Middle East.
“Renewable energy is no stranger to the UAE’s visioN”
H.E Dr Nawal Al-Hosany
As of 2019, Masdar’s global portfolio featured nine onshore wind farms, three offshore wind farms and over 30 solar projects across the Middle East and North Africa region, Central Asia, Europe, North America, Caribbean and Pacific Islands.
The UAE has also expanded its own energy diversification efforts in line with the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 which was unveiled in January 2017, and that represents the first unified nationwide strategy to balance energy production and consumption. The strategy aims to diversify the country’s energy mix to reach a target of 50 per cent clean energy by 2050. These objectives are well-aligned with the target of the UAE Vision 2021 to generate 27 per cent of the country’s energy requirements from clean sources, including nuclear power.
Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) has just achieved a world record by receiving the lowest bid of USD1.6953 cents per kilowatt hour for the fifth phase of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Solar Park in Dubai, slated for completion in 2030. DEWA released the tender for the fifth phase in February 2019 and received 60 Requests for Qualifications (REQ). This is just the latest of a series of record-breaking cost reductions in solar since 2015 and reinforces the UAE’s position as a global player in advancing renewable energy solutions.
In addition to the Solar Park that is slated to be the world’s largest with a planned capacity of 5,000 MW and investments totalling AED50 billion by 2030, DEWA’s initiatives such as Shams Dubai, which encourages building owners to install photovoltaic (PV) solar panels connected to the DEWA grid, have brought online a total capacity of 125 MW so far.
Meanwhile, Noor Abu Dhabi, currently the world’s largest single-site solar project, boasts a capacity of 1,177 megawatts. Its 3.2 million panels provide sufficient power to meet the needs of 90,000 people and can reduce CO2 emissions by one million metric tonnes per year — the equivalent of pulling 200,000 cars off the busy roads.
Given this track record, the UAE is today committed to increasing the global uptake for renewable energy to help all people everywhere maximise the potential of renewable energy as a major power source. The joint Abu Dhabi Fund for Development-IRENA Project Facility that has aimed to disburse funds to make the dream of sustainable projects around the world a reality has witnessed worldwide acclaim and participation.
Besides the implementation of world-class projects at home, across the region, and throughout the world, the UAE is at the vanguard of raising awareness and advocating for increasing renewable energy as part of the global energy mix. In the 2016 Cabinet reshuffle, the UAE tasked two ministries with overseeing the country’s renewable energy journey: the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, and the Ministry of Energy. Both ministries work hand-in-hand in setting policy and ensuring the implementation of strategic policies aimed at reducing costs, building awareness and preparing the next generation of Emiratis with the tools needed to continue implementing the UAE leadership’s directives with respect to both renewable energy policy and sustainability.