UAE can save billions with solar energy, Irena report says

Could save US$1.9 billion by 2030 if renewable energy capacity reaches 10 per cent of total output.

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The UAE could realise billions of dirhams in potential savings if it develops solar energy projects ahead of other sources including natural gas, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency.

If the UAE can boost its renewable energy capacity to 10 per cent of its total energy mix - and 25 per cent of power generation - it could save US$1.9 billion annually by 2030 by reducing consumption of fossil fuels amid “rapidly increasing natural gas prices and decreasing renewable energy costs”.

“When accounting for health and environmental benefits additional net annual savings of $1bn to $3.7bn by 2030 could be generated,” said the Renewable Energy Roadmap 2030 report released by Irena, Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Institute and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday.

However, to achieve this Abu Dhabi will need to be at the forefront of renewable energy efforts in the country, according to Masdar Institute’s Steve Griffiths.

“To get the entire energy system for the UAE up to 10 per cent of renewables, Abu Dhabi is going to have to become deeply involved,” said Mr Griffiths, the executive director of institute initiatives. “Abu Dhabi was one of the starting points with Masdar City, but [the emirate] has to push along with Dubai to get a much higher level of solar energy into the system.”

The emirate hopes renewable energy will account for 7 per cent of its power generation by 2020, while Dubai aims for 15 per cent by 2030.

“[The report] makes the clear case that renewables, and especially solar, will have a much larger role sooner than we ever expected in the UAE,” said Fred Moavenzadeh, president of the Masdar Institute.

Thani Al Zeyoudi, climate change director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the development of renewables would support energy security, reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and job creation.

“We are investing broadly and letting technologies compete to produce the optimal supply mix,” he said.

The planned 100 megawatts Nour 1 solar photovoltaic (PV) plant, east of Al Ain, could be a major step forward for Abu Dhabi. The Nour 1, first announced in 2011, is just the first phase of a 300MW solar park to be operated by Masdar.

The terms of the tender for the Nour 1 project are expected to be critical to get the ball rolling on more renewable energy schemes, according to Mr Griffiths.

“What people want to see out of the Nour 1 is when the tender goes out,” said.

The initial bids were received in 2011, and despite delays Masdar Clean Energy’s director, Bader Al Lamki, said in January that the first phase would move ahead “more aggressively” this year.

The cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology has already dropped by 80 per cent since 2008 and the record low price achieved for the recently awarded 200MW phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar PV park in Dubai has been considered a watershed for the technology.

The 5.84 US cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) price compares to about 9 US cents for power produced via natural gas – which accounts for 98 per cent of power generation in this country.