GCC's renewable energy transition unlocks the potential for a new green economy

Expansion in sustainable energy and development are essential components to achieve economic diversification

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai. Masdar
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Global climate change leaders who attended the UAE Regional Dialogue for Climate Action in Abu Dhabi on April 4 witnessed first-hand a region that is not only talking about carbon-reduction commitments and the strategic transition to a renewable energy future but one that is also investing heavily in delivering on decarbonisation pledges, with leaders taking bold action.

Hastening climate action is necessary to combat the forces of climate change and, in the face of inaction, the real potential for climate disaster. At the same time, climate action represents a tremendous opportunity to develop a new sustainable green energy economy.

That expansion in clean technology and sustainable development simply makes good business sense was the message Dr Sultan Al Jaber, the UAE’s special envoy for climate change and Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, delivered to delegates.

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia look at investment in clean energy as an essential component of economic diversification, industrialisation, job creation and preparations for a post-oil economy. That is why the development of renewable energy technology, infrastructure and facilities are key pillars of the UAE’s Operation 300bn and Saudi Arabia’s Made in Saudi manufacturing and industrialisation strategies.

Saudi Arabia is committed to achieving 50 per cent of energy production from renewables by 2030. To reach this goal, the kingdom plans to spend up to $50 billion on new infrastructure by 2023.

This renewable energy economic development strategy includes 30 per cent local content requirements, as well as local hiring targets. The kingdom’s new 300-megawatt Sakaka solar plant recently announced it achieved 100 per cent local hiring, with 90 per cent representing young Saudis from Al Jouf.

The UAE National Energy Plan 2050 calls for clean energy to represent 50 per cent of the nation’s total energy mix by 2050. That would reduce the carbon footprint of power generation by 70 per cent, bringing with it cost savings estimated at $190bn.

This includes the two largest single-site solar plants in the world that are currently being developed in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Both will contribute to the growing UAE green economy while promoting job creation and investment in renewables’ research and development.

By 2030, based on the current national commitments and project plans, GCC countries are on track to save the equivalent of 354 million barrels of oil through the deployment of renewables

Countries such as Egypt and Oman have additional forces driving their renewables strategy. Energy demand in Egypt is expected to more than double in the next 10 years, while peak energy demand in Oman is expected to increase by more than 50 per cent by 2023.

Both countries have set aggressive renewable energy targets to meet these growing needs, with Oman planning for renewable energy to account for 30 per cent of its energy mix by 2030 and Egypt aiming to generate 42 per cent of its electricity through renewables by 2035.

Today, solar energy represents 94 per cent of the current installed capacity of renewable energy across all GCC countries, with most of it coming from utility-scale solar photovoltaic projects. Solar also represents 91 per cent of the potential power generation currently in the pipeline in the GCC, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency's Renewable Energy Market Analysis: GCC 2019 report.

There are a number of reasons why solar is dominating the renewable energy mix across the region. It starts with the significant decline in the cost of solar energy production, with the cost per kilowatt hour falling by about 75 per cent from $0.50 to $0.135 in the past five years.

This rapid cost decrease directly correlates to an increase in the efficiency ratings of new solar plants. This comes from innovation in increased power efficiency per square foot of solar modules, dynamic artificial intelligence tracking systems, digital operations and maintenance software, as well as the ability to more effectively capture, store and transmit energy, and the evolution of robotic cleaning solutions.

As a result, new solar plants are operating at up to 99 per cent efficiency ratings.

By 2030, based on the current national commitments and project plans, GCC countries are on track to save the equivalent of 354 million barrels of oil using renewables. That represents a 23 per cent reduction in oil consumption that would also create more than 220,000 jobs. It would also reduce the power sector’s carbon dioxide emissions by 22 per cent and cut water withdrawal in the power sector by 17 per cent.

Nextracker is teaming up with a range of government regulators, owner-operators and technology companies across the region to bring to life some of the largest and most technologically advanced solar projects in the world that will contribute to achieving this vision. That includes the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai, the Sakaka solar project in Saudi Arabia, the Benban Solar Park in Egypt and the Sohar Solar Plant in Oman.

These projects, along with many others across the region, will play a significant role in realising national decarbonisation pledges while forming the foundation of a new sustainable green energy economy. They will deliver far-reaching environmental and socio-economic benefits and measurable results for years to come while helping to provide for the well-being of future generations. That kind of climate action truly makes good business sense.

Nava Akkineni is vice president of emerging markets at Nextracker