World renewable-energy agency to focus on helping UAE hit target

Abu Dhabi and Saudi investments to be 'game-changers' according to Irena Director General. UAE and Saudi are investing heavily in renewable energies such as solar power.

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DOHA, QATAR // The world's green-energy agency will next year focus on helping the UAE and its Arabian Gulf neighbours to achieve their renewable-energy targets, its director general said yesterday.

"Next year, our focus will be very much on Abu Dhabi and the GCC region," Dr Adnan Amin of the International Renewable Energy Agency, or Irena, said on the sidelines of the UN climate change talks in Doha.

Abu Dhabi, where Irena's headquarters is based, has set a target by which 7 per cent of all of its energy demands will be met by renewables by 2020.

"That is going to be hard for them to achieve, frankly, but they have to do it and we will be working very closely with the UAE and Abu Dhabi in particular to make sure that we can get to that point," said Dr Amin.

Irena is not formally part of the negotiations process but is closely following the talks. This week it held an event at which representatives from the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman discussed their plans.

Dr Amin noted the UAE - the first in the region to consider renewable energy - is also investing in renewable technologies that are just coming to market.

One example is Gemasolar, a solar-thermal plant in Spain, where for the first time heat is stored in a way that enables the plant to continue producing power at night.

"Some of the most exciting investments like the Gemasolar plant with molten-salt storage is one of those possibilities that can be a game-changer," said Dr Amin.

He said Saudi Arabia was also investing heavily.

"If Saudi Arabia goes decisively in the direction of renewable-energy investment, it will be a game-changer in the entire region.

“And what we are seeing is the beginnings of that.”

The kingdom has announced it will build 40 gigawatts of solar-generation capacity by 2032, at an estimated cost of US$120 billion (Dh440.79bn).

“I was asked a question in the corridors, ‘isn’t all of this greenwashing?’” Dr Amin said. “I said if it is greenwashing, you don’t need to spend $120bn on it, you can do it for a few million dollars.

“Put up a few placards, get a few ads out – that is all you need for greenwashing. It is a substantive change that we are seeing.”

It remains to be seen how GCC countries’ renewable energy plans will affect their needs for fossil energy and greenhouse-gas emissions.

The latter is the subject of the Doha talks with governments from 194 countries negotiating ways to reduce emissions, which have reached dangerous levels and threaten to disrupt climate with catastrophic results.

Recent data from the International Energy Agency shows that the per capita energy consumption in the Arabian Gulf far exceeds that of large world economies, including the United States, China and the European Union.

Four GCC states – Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain – also top the chart for per capita greenhouse gas emissions.

Qatar is responsible for more than 35 tonnes of carbon dioxide a head; the UAE for slightly more than 20 tonnes a head. China’s per capita carbon footprint is about five tonnes.

While Dr Amin said measures should be taken to reduce GCC states’ emissions, the high carbon footprint is the result of investments in the hydrocarbons industry, which is very energy-intensive.

But while oil, gas and petroleum products are produced in the Gulf, they are used by many other countries.

“That cost of carbon is never accounted in the other markets,” he said. “They [GCC states] are unfairly given that big footprint but people benefit from that carbon emission elsewhere without it being counted towards them.”