How UAE landfills are becoming solar farms

Switching to clean energy will require using existing resources more creatively

The Sharjah skyline. Emirates Waste to Energy Company, a joint venture between Bee’ah and Masdar, will develop the UAE’s first solar landfill project in Sharjah. Courtesy Asteco
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On September 24, for the first time since 1981, the United Nations General Assembly will meet for a high-level dialogue on energy. The UAE will be represented there as one of the UN’s 25 Global Theme Champions.

At the meeting in New York, representatives of countries will discuss energy-related goals, the implementation of these goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. One of the topics that will be on the table is the need for countries to urgently switch to affordable and clean energy.

Through targeting net zero emissions and developing cleaner sources of energy, including nuclear energy, the UAE has shown a commitment to climate action and energy transition. An initiative launched in 2017, called the UAE's Energy Strategy 2050, aims to double the contribution of clean energy – to 50 per cent by 2050 – and reduce the carbon footprint of power generation by 70 per cent.

In the run up to the meeting in New York, Damilola Ogunbiyi, a UN representative, visited the UAE in July. While in the UAE, Ms Ogunbiyi, who is also co-chair of UN Energy, met with Bee’ah at a session held by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment to learn about how public-private partnerships are contributing to every aspect of daily life – from waste and energy production to health, education and collaboration with others.

Such collaborations are going to be increasingly essential as companies around the world co-operate with one another to address climate problems. One example is our partnership with Masdar, Abu Dhabi's renewable energy company, to form the Emirates Waste to Energy Company. Our initial project together was to build the UAE’s first waste-to-energy plant.

Bee'ah Solar Farm. Photo: Bee'ah
US special envoy for climate change John Kerry receives a helicopter tour of Abu Dhabi's main solar park. Courtesy: Office of the UAE Special Envoy For Climate Change

Ms Ogunbiyi and other UN representatives visited Bee'ah's waste management complex in Sharjah to understand its significance. The facility will process more than 300,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste annually to produce around 30 megawatts of energy – enough to power 28,000 homes in Sharjah. Another positive affect will be its ability to offset almost 450,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

Since 1970, global carbon emissions have increased by about 90 per cent. The generation of energy is the largest contributor to climate change, accounting for 60 per cent of global emissions. It is vital that countries work to reduce these figures and switch to cleaner forms of energy. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases act like a blanket that prevents heat from radiating out from the planet. This exacerbates the problem of global warming. So, efforts in the UAE to lower carbon footprint are not just positive but necessary.

One of the rapidly growing forms of clean energy is solar power. The sunlight which the Earth's surface receives in just one and a half hours is enough to power the entire world's electricity consumption for a year. That is more than adequate reason to invest in it. There are other benefits too of tapping solar energy: as solar infrastructure is scaled up, other costs come down and efficiency increases. But for projects like solar farms, we need more investment. There are challenges to overcome, such as inadequate space or land requirements.

To address these challenges, Bee’ah is creating the first solar landfill project in the region. This project is thematically aligned with the UAE already on course to develop a number of renewable energy projects that will diversify the country's energy mix – including Abu Dhabi building the world's largest solar power plant, and Dubai building the world’s largest solar energy park to reduce the emirate’s reliance on natural gas.

The idea behind the Sharjah project is to repurpose closed landfills. Solar panels will be fitted on top of the landfill site. The innovative aspect here is that the landfill will use existing space while at the same time generating clean energy – up to 120 megawatts.

The UAE's adoption of green hydrogen, fuel generated with clean energy, is another source of clean energy that could help bring net-zero emissions in the coming decades. The UAE has announced its aim to become a major hydrogen producer. And we are proud to be helping the country achieve that goal. Bee'ah has announced plans for the region’s first waste-to-hydrogen project, including a green hydrogen generation plant and a hydrogen vehicle fuelling station.

As Dr Abdullah Al Nuaimi, UAE's Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said: "The private sector also has the potential to make a significant contribution towards our ultimate goal of reaching carbon neutrality.”

Our aim at Bee’ah is to ensure a sustainable, technology-driven future through creative and resourceful solutions, something that will highlighted at the UN meet. In striving for a clean-energy future, if the public and private sectors collaborate, there is no challenge that we cannot overcome.

Published: September 14, 2021, 9:00 AM
Updated: October 07, 2021, 11:58 AM