Over the past week, some of the more prominent announcements at Adipec, the annual global conference of oil and gas companies in Abu Dhabi, have unsurprisingly been centred on renewable energy and the UAE's decarbonisation drive. After all, making significant investments in clean energy projects over the past decade has been an integral part of the country's gradual and pragmatic transition from traditional fuels and diversifying the economy.
Coinciding with the last day of the energy event, in a significant move, the UAE's first wind programme was launched by Masdar, Abu Dhabi's clean energy company. Sheikh Khaled bin Mohamed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council inaugurated the programme on Thursday, on behalf of UAE President Sheikh Mohamed.
The importance of wind power contributions to clean energy is enormous. According to the International Energy Agency, investment in wind generation increased by 20 per cent last year, after a slowdown in 2021, and investment in wind power reached a record $185 billion globally, which is the second largest among all power generation technologies (after solar). Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Cop28 President-designate and chairman of Masdar, said: “The UAE wind programme is a great source of national pride and a demonstration of Masdar’s ability to pioneer and implement innovations in wind and renewable energy technologies.”
This is the first time that the Arab world’s second-largest economy has added wind power to its energy mix and on such a major scale. The 103.5 megawatt wind project will be developed by Masdar, and a 45MWp (megawatt peak) wind farm will be situated on Sir Bani Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, apart from three other locations.
The return on other investments the UAE has made in clean energy is also significant. For example, the UAE's Barakah nuclear plant, the first nuclear energy plant in the Arab world over the past winter, met up to 48 per cent of Abu Dhabi’s electricity requirements – with zero-carbon electricity.
As the UAE strides towards its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, it also seeks to increase the share of clean energy projects by 50 per cent of the country's overall energy mix in that time period. In keeping with this aim – which forms the UAE Energy Strategy – the country already has in its portfolio (besides the Barakah plant and the soon-to-be ready solar plant in Abu Dhabi's Al Dhafra region), the five-gigawatt Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai.
But even as transitioning to clean energy is under way, natural gas will still be required in the foreseeable future to bridge much of the critical global energy transition. “Gas will continue to be a key to the energy mix and for decades to come,” Mansoor Al Hamed, chief executive of Mubadala Energy, said at Adipec.
The demand for natural gas, which emits 50 per cent less carbon dioxide than coal, is unlikely to abate soon, given that it was trading at a high of $450 billion in 2022 due to the European demand surge after the Ukraine conflict began last February.
On the final day of Adipec, one key deal that the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company announced was with the Hail and Ghasha fields for offshore development, a project that aims to capture 1.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, in addition numerous big carbon capture projects.
In the renewables arena, too, the needle has moved. One of the world’s largest solar plants, with a capacity of two gigawatts, will be operational in Abu Dhabi in a matter of weeks, Taqa group chief executive Jasim Thabet said at the conference. This is just one of several accomplishments in the national pipeline, as the UAE prepares to host Cop28, the UN climate summit, next month.
As countries around the world balance the continuing need for fuel, funds for the energy transition, as well as diversifying away from oil, the progress that the UAE has made, and continues to make, is a precedent that will need to be followed in the crucial decades ahead.