UAE faces 'risk and opportunity' in green energy transition

Infrastructure, knowledge and relationships key to global role as a leading provider of power, says energy transition expert

Petrofac UAE is Emirates is well placed to benefit from the move to renewables. Photo: Petrofac
Powered by automated translation

The green energy transition presents a risk, and a significant opportunity, for the UAE to retain its position as the “world’s energy provider”, an industry expert has said.

Alex Haynes, who leads business development for the energy transition projects group at Petrofac, said the Emirates is well placed to benefit from the move to renewables.

Speaking to The National before the start of Cop28 at the end of the month, Mr Haynes said the UAE has the experience, having delivered projects in the energy sector for the past five decades.

“The UAE is already delivering energy around the world. So they have the terminals and they have the ships, they have the contracts, the relationships. So actually just changing slightly what the product mix is fairly easy,” he said.

“And they have also got the bank balance to do it.”

Mr Haynes said the UAE, which will host Cop28, also known as the UN Climate Change Conference, from November 30 to December 12, has already made some “good strides” in that direction.

London-listed Petrofac was last year awarded a $700 million engineering, procurement and construction project to build a new carbon capture facility at the Habshan Complex, west of Abu Dhabi.

Carbon capture is one of five key areas of focus for Petrofac in the energy transition, the others being hydrogen, where the UAE also holds promise; offshore wind; sustainable aviation fuel; and emissions reduction.

Mr Haynes said both hydrogen and waste fuel are growing in the UAE.

"Clearly hydrogen and its derivatives will be quite interesting,” he said.

If the UAE, and wider GCC region, wants to “retain that position as the world’s energy provider then it’s going to have to need to change to what their customers want, which is a low carbon energy source”.

“It is perfectly capable of delivering that,” Mr Haynes said last week at a London Business School (LBS) in London talk entitled The Road to Cop28, which focused on how businesses are having an effect in the energy transition.

LBS is to host another discussion this Thursday, this time in Dubai at its campus in Dubai International Finance Centre, which will further discuss key themes and challenges facing the business world, what to expect during Cop28, and what to pay attention to during the two-week programme.

The event will feature the head of sustainability at Microsoft Middle East and a member of the Cop28 organising committee, both of whom are LBS alumni.

Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at LBS, who will moderate the discussion, said previous Cops had “good intentions”, but struggled to deliver on promises made.

He told The National: “Paris was the one that everyone remembers, because that’s when we made this global commitment to try to get to maximum 1.5°C global warming. Everything since then has been about trying to keep that in place. And every year the data says we are not quite where we need to be.

“The problem is literally trillions of dollars are being invested in this stuff and it’s nowhere near enough,” he added.

He said Cop is a “useful annual reminder” of what needs to be done, and yet for all the “good intention”, the world consistently fails to meet its objectives.

“It’s what we call a collective action problem, which is that even if we agree to a bunch of good things to do, every country then has its own laws,” Prof Birkinshaw said.

“And every country has no particular incentive to do what’s necessary for the common good. Because they are under their own particular pressures in their own countries.”

Updated: November 22, 2023, 1:18 PM