In 2006, when the Abu Dhabi leadership launched Masdar, the world wondered why an oil-rich country was venturing into renewable energy and investing so heavily in the emerging sector. At the time, renewable energy, energy efficiency and climate change were not on the agenda of the countries in the Gulf region. Today, however, momentum is gathering in the region as Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are making a strategic turn to embrace renewable energy. The first step taken towards this strategic turn was initiated by Masdar, the industry first-movers in the region, which has positioned Abu Dhabi and the UAE as the epicentre of renewable energy in the GCC and the Middle East.
Today we see the results of that leadership. This year the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced its intention to invest more than $100 billion to develop 41 gigawatts of solar capacity for power production; and Dubai unveiled its plans to invest nearly $4 billion in deploying 1-gigawatt of solar power. High-level international climate and energy summits are being held in Doha and Dubai, and ambitious clean energy targets are being adopted throughout the region.
These moves are all necessary if we want to seriously address the major energy and sustainability challenges of today. They are also a testament to the fact that hydrocarbon-rich countries in the region now understand the critical role oil and gas can play as a bridge to a low-carbon, sustainable future — an understanding that drove Abu Dhabi’s initiative six years ago, with the decision to invest across the entire value chain of a renewable energy industry.
Beginning with a clean-tech investment fund and soon thereafter investing in the creation of a graduate-level research institute focused entirely on renewable energy and sustainable technologies, Masdar quickly showed its commitment to investing holistically to develop an entire industry. This decision was also the critical factor behind the support the UAE received in its successful bid to host the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) headquarters in Abu Dhabi — the first inter-governmental organisation to be hosted in the Middle East.
Today, Abu Dhabi’s commitment to renewable energy and sustainable development is as strong as ever. The Shams 1 concentrating solar power plant in the western part of the emirate is near completion and will soon be supplying 100 megawatts of clean, renewable energy to the Abu Dhabi grid. Masdar City, the ambitious sustainable urban development, is putting the finishing touches on two large commercial buildings and completing the construction of a major addition to the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, adding new research and residential facilities. The city’s integrated renewable energy, water and energy management systems and advanced building and design technologies are together contributing to a new blueprint for sustainable urban development in hot, arid climates.
In the course of building a renewable energy industry from scratch in Abu Dhabi, we have learned that investment is a necessary vehicle for growth, but it is not a sufficient one. To drive the market, Abu Dhabi adopted a target in 2009 of having renewable energy account for 7 per cent of our generating capacity by 2020. While more recently, Dubai has set a 1 per cent solar generation target by 2020 and 5 per cent by 2030.
We welcome the addition of similar renewable energy targets set by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain as they will provide a boost to the burgeoning renewable energy sector in the region — a region with tremendous untapped renewable energy potential.
We also recognise that the demand side of the energy equation is as important as the supply side. Again, Abu Dhabi has led the way, with the Urban Planning Council launching the Estidama Pearl Rating System, a set of mandatory standards for sustainable building development practices in the Emirate. Under the new Estidama mandate, all new communities, buildings and villas are required to achieve minimum standards of energy and water efficiency and sustainable construction. And government buildings are held to an even higher standard. Elsewhere in the UAE, comparable standards are being developed.
Almost every challenge we are confronted with today drives us to the need to achieve sustainable development. Whether it is economic development, poverty eradication, energy access and security, water availability or dealing with climate change, all these issues are intertwined as part of a sustainable future. The good news is that high-level conferences and events like the upcoming United Nations COP 18 climate talks in Qatar, this week’s World Energy Forum in Dubai and the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week are addressing these challenges across various platforms.
Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, a global platform that takes a holistic approach to addressing the interconnected challenges of sustainability, will encourage actionable outcomes that carve a pathway towards sustainability worldwide. Taking place in January 2013, the week will feature established gatherings such as the General Assembly of the International Renewable Energy Agency; the fifth awards ceremony for the Zayed Future Energy Prize, the preeminent renewable energy and sustainability prize in the world; and the sixth World Future Energy Summit, the world’s foremost annual meeting committed to advancing future energy, energy efficiency and clean technologies.
The week will also see the addition of two important events that will address critical energy challenges of today: the first International Water Summit, which will address the water-energy nexus; and the International Renewable Energy Conference, a high-level policy conference that this year selected Abu Dhabi as the host city because of the Emirate’s bold leadership in renewable energy.
Building on Abu Dhabi and Masdar’s ground-breaking efforts, the UAE has pioneered renewable energy and climate change mitigation in the region. And as evidenced by the recent activity around clean energy and climate change taking place around us, we have also positioned the region on the sustainability world stage.
This is an exciting time for the UAE and the Gulf. The seeds sown in 2006 in Abu Dhabi are producing a rich harvest in the form of cleaner energy, new technologies, high-value jobs and a new leadership role for the region. We can all be proud of the progress that has been achieved and that has yet to be achieved.
Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is the Chief Executive Officer, Masdar