What it takes to power the Middle East’s renewables revolution

The UAE’s comprehensive approach to hitting ambitious sustainability and renewable energy targets over the next 50 years is a blueprint for other responsible countries

December 14, 2010 - Abu Dhabi, UAE -  Solar panels at Masdar City.  Masdar City is a project being built by Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company in Abu Dhabi which will rely entirely on solar energy and other renewable energy sources.  The project will be completed by 2025 and will cost US$18 billion.  (Andrew Henderson/The National)
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The Paris climate agreement was a watershed moment for many reasons. It caused a tidal wave of change, sending ripples through governments, policy makers and thought leaders as they have pledged to restrict global warming to below two degrees Celsius after the treaty was adopted in late 2015.

But it is not just words and intentions that have changed. The share of renewable energy in global electricity supply has increased by 27.19 per cent from 2015 to 2018 – representing an average annual growth rate of 6.8 per cent, according to a 2019 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, or Irena. At the end of last year, the world’s total renewable energy generation capacity reached 2,351 gigawatts, which represents a little more than a third of total installed electricity capacity, the same report states.

It is clear to see: there is evidence of a seismic renewable energy shift – one that could yet prove to be the inspiration for the revolution we need. And amid the cast of players that are making this renewables revolution a possibility, the UAE has taken a central role.

Since 2015, the Gulf Co-operation Council's renewable project pipeline has reached almost 7GW of new power generation capacity by 2018, following record-breaking bids in renewable energy auctions here in the UAE and next door in Saudi Arabia that has made solar power a cost-competitive solution

The UAE’s approach to sustainability and renewable energy has been comprehensive; taking into account the shifts needed not just in renewable energy production and consumption but in multi-stakeholder collaborations, public-private partnerships, green economic thinking and green financing options.

Such forward-thinking has propelled the UAE to the front of the renewables drive and is having a profound impact on the region. Since 2015, the Gulf Co-operation Council’s renewable project pipeline has reached almost 7GW of new power generation capacity by 2018, following record-breaking bids in renewable energy auctions here in the UAE and next door in Saudi Arabia that has made solar power a cost-competitive solution.

We are aware that everyone needs to be involved in this movement. To continue the momentum in the region and globally, a campaign was launched by the UAE Mission to Irena, a part of the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. #Act4Impact provides a platform and calls on all renewable energy stakeholders, as well as the general public, to share their success stories of a switch to renewables, and their dreams for a clean energy-fuelled future. It is only by including everyone that we can have the impact needed to affect a lasting change.

When addressing inclusivity in this vital sector, we can look at how the UAE has integrated people, policies and strategies to regulate the energy sector as an example of the holistic thinking that is powering the renewables revolution.

The empowerment of our youth and our women has been vital in promoting the adoption of sustainable practices and clean energy sources. For instance, the Women's Forum for Sustainability, Environment, and Renewable Energy, established by Masdar and the Zayed Sustainability Prize, has enhanced women’s contribution to building a sustainable future and made the sector a more dynamic one.

Furthermore, as well as implementing mega renewable energy projects, including Masdar’s Solar Photovoltaic Plant, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park and the waste-to-energy plant in Sharjah in partnership with Bee'ah, the UAE’s vision for having 50 per cent clean energy in the total energy mix by 2050 revolves around sustainable finance and an economy that works for the future of the planet.

Under the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy, a key pillar was the establishment of a Dh100 billion Dubai Green Fund to facilitate easy, low-interest loans for investors in green economy projects and to actualise the benefits of public-private partnerships.

Meanwhile in Abu Dhabi, Masdar created the region’s first green revolving credit facility last October with four banks to provide sustainable financing options for clean technology and sustainable real estate projects.

Because wealth and socio-economic development across the GCC remain closely tied to the region’s substantial oil and gas reserves, the need for an all-round plan to kickstart the renewables push in a sustainable manner is paramount, as rising populations and economic diversification have led to greater energy demand. Renewables, although a relatively recent entrant in the GCC energy landscape, hold vast potential to cut energy costs in the long run, reduce carbon emissions, conserve scarce water and create jobs.

In 2020, sustainability and renewable energy will form the backbone of the UAE’s preparations for the 50 years ahead as technologies, projects and concepts come to fruition across the land. Renewable energy will shape the future of the region and the UAE will drive this change towards a brighter, cleaner future.

Dr Nawal Al Hosany is a permanent representative of the UAE to the International Renewable Energy Agency