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Is the UAE on the cusp of a Clean Energy Revolution?

Posted by: James Cant

With nigh on unrivalled sunshine, not to mention plenty of available and unused land in which to develop solar capacity, the renewable energy potential for GCC states is enormous, but largely ignored in light of large oil and gas reserves.

Rising energy demand and booms in most sectors across the Gulf States means electricity consumption is rising at around 8% per year (IRENA, Renewable Energy in the Gulf). Lowering domestic oil and gas use within electricity and replacing much of this with solar and other renewable sources means, simplistically, freeing up more hydrocarbons for export.

Furthermore, the six GCC states are among the world’s biggest carbon producers, and could be in a unique position to research and develop ways to make solar energy even more cost-effective.

If we take the UAE as an example, we know that solar power has the potential to provide the majority of the country’s demand for electricity – and whilst the country has taken steps to introduce large-scale solar power, this still accounts for a very small share of production within the country. HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai has called for solar panels to be mandatory on all of Dubai’s roofs by 2030, as part of the vision to produce 75% of the city’s energy from clean sources by 2050.

One fantastic example of solar use in the Gulf is the planned Masdar City, Abu Dhabi. Masdar City has been designed with sustainability in mind, relying entirely on renewables – with the city having a 10MW solar PV plant on site and 1MW of rooftop solar. However, although the first stage of development was scheduled for completion in 2009, the global economic crisis halted development and completion has been pushed back to 2030.

As well as the plans for solar and other renewable energy in Masdar, the city has many other clever design plans and features which increase its sustainability – for example designs by Foster + Partners have enabled the city to be up to 20 degrees C cooler than the surrounding desert area thanks to the city’s terracotta walls, self-shading facades and designs which mean that pedestrian streets are shaded by the surrounding buildings and benefit from funnelling prevailing winds (Foster + Partners). These features, among others, will reduce pressure on the grid and consequently on fossil fuels.

The UAE has taken great steps towards reducing its dependence on fossil fuels, as demonstrated in the examples above, but more work is needed to ensure that the country – and the other GCC members – really take advantage of the unrivalled solar capacity they can exploit to ensure they meet the demands of COP21.

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