Abu Dhabi's green transition gathers momentum during annual sustainability week

Regional oil producers such as Saudi Arabia are using their sovereign wealth funds to invest in clean energy

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 16 JANUARY 2019. General show room floor image for WFES as part of the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Sarmad Khan. Section: Business.
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Sustainably grown biofuel to power the Middle East aviation sector, multibillion-dollar bonds to drive the region’s transition to a cleaner economy as well as solutions to mitigate food security concerns in one of the world’s most arid regions topped the agenda at this week’s Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

The annual event once again brought together policymakers and energy executives to forge partnerships and draw up frameworks to transition from a fossil-fuel economy to one that taps into the region’s abundant resources of solar and wind power.

The Middle East accounts for 34 per cent of the world's oil production and possesses nearly 48 per cent of global reserves for crude, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2018. The abundance of hydrocarbons had
allowed for rapid transformation of regional economies, empowering sovereign wealth funds to beef up their global portfolios.

However, much of the crude was also put towards uneconomical uses, namely power generation, wasting a precious resource that could have been exported or fed into refineries to be transformed into products that form the backbone of the global economy, such as polymers and plastics.

Regional aspirations are ambitious and gathering momentum. Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid Al Falih, one of the headline speakers at ADSW, announced the kingdom's Public Investment Fund's new role as an investor in 70 per cent of the country's planned renewable capacity.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil-exporting nation, plans to develop about 60 gigawatts of power capacity from cleaner sources as it looks to free up more crude for export. Of the planned capacity, 40GW would come from photovoltaic stations, 3GW from concentrated solar power and the remaining 16GW from wind.

The country is pushing ahead with its firstwind scheme, awarding a consortium led by Abu Dhabi's Masdar and France's EDF the project to develop a 400-megawatt plant in the kingdom's Dumat Al Jandal region.


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By 2023, Saudi Arabia aims to integrate 9.5GW of renewable power capacity to the grid. While renewables will play an increasing  role in the generation of power, Mr Al Falih was quick to stress that their effect on oil demand would remain "minimal".

"I'm not concerned about the role of renewables. Renewables are going to primarily displace sources like coal," he said.

Oil will continue to play a crucial role in generating feedstock for products that form the DNA of the global plastics industry, which continues to see rising demand in high-growth economies of Asia.

Abu Dhabi's state airline Etihad, meanwhile, piloted the UAE's first commercial flight that ran partially on plants nurtured with saltwater and seafood in the emirate's desert landscape.

Abu Dhabi Energy Company, also known as Taqa and which has the emirate's utilities regulator Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority as a majority stakeholder, plans to have 10 per cent of its portfolio generated from renewable energy sources by 2030 as it seeks to expand its footprint in the Middle East, North and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Meanwhile, financing for renewable projects is picking up regionally, with an estimated $163 billion (Dh598bn) invested in clean energy so far, according to the chairman of Abu Dhabi Global Market.

The investment comes amid a global plan to raise the cap on green financing available to about $90 trillion over the next 15 years, following an agreement by central bank governors in 2016 to achieve sustainable development targets.