The UAE’s focus on renewable energy will pay off

    01 Jul 2024

    Imagine a world where summers are relentlessly hot, droughts are commonplace and coastal cities face rising sea levels. This is not a distant future, but a reality based on recent climate data.

    Statistics from Nasa show 2023 was the hottest year on record, with temperatures around 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than the 19th-century average.

    The world energy consumption curve is trending upwards, and we expect to see more people using more electricity. If, like most experts estimate, the world will need to triple the amount of electricity people consume by 2050, it will need to innovate regarding how to cleanly generate this electricity, and how to move and store it efficiently and affordably.

    Today, fossil fuels continue to play a prominent role in the planet’s energy systems, producing more than 60 per cent of global electricity in 2023. With hydrocarbon use contributing to air pollution and climate change, experts see accelerating the energy transition – the shift from carbon to renewables – as a crucial factor to securing a sustainable future.

    At last year’s climate summit Cop28 in Dubai, the UAE Consensus was a major breakthrough in which 198 countries agreed to “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner”. Additionally, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has called for governments to commit to tripling global renewable capacity by 2030. This mandate was about securing a sustainable and liveable future for generations to come.

    According to a report last month in the Global Electricity Review, the impact of tripling renewable energy could almost halve power sector emissions in the next six years, with a 37 per cent reduction in fossil power generation while renewables would help meet the electricity demand growth with a 32 per cent increase, compared to 2022.

    Furthermore, an agreement was made at Cop28 with more than 100 governments – including the UAE – signing the Global Renewables and Energy Efficiency Pledge in line with the IEA’s call for action.

    To achieve this goal, it is imperative to recognise that increasing renewable energy capacity will help diversify the energy mix away from fossil fuels. By relying more on renewable sources such as hydrogen, solar, wind, hydro and geothermal, countries can significantly reduce their carbon footprint and mitigate the adverse effects of climate change. Additionally, some renewable energy sources are more affordable. According to the IEA, solar power is between 20 to 50 per cent cheaper today than last year, depending on the region.

    In 2023, $1.7 trillion was invested in global clean energy, including nuclear, grids and low-emission fuels. The size of these financial funds – the equivalent of Amazon’s market value – can enhance energy security and reduce dependence on imports.

    The expansion of renewable energy capacity also opens several job opportunities. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, 40 million jobs could be created by 2050 with more than half (55 per cent) based in Asia, while Europe would account for 14 per cent. Additionally, research shows the demand for qualified energy engineers and wind turbine technicians is expected to continue rising.

    The UAE is already embarking on its own journey, having recognised the importance of transitioning to a more sustainable energy system with the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 fundamental to tripling the contribution of renewable energy. Over the next six years, the government is set to invest up to Dh200 million, with the target of producing 44 per cent clean energy by 2050.

    To help achieve the target, the UAE has implemented various projects and initiatives, such as the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, one of the world’s largest. The development will have a total capacity of 5,000 MW or five million kilowatts, and will reduce carbon emissions by 6.5 million tonnes every year when completed in 2030. This is just one slice of the Dh147 billion earmarked for investment into clean energy sources over the last 15 years.

    Hydrogen will be crucial to building a sustainable future. The global hydrogen market is expected to be worth $410 billion by 2030, while an average of $136 billion per year is required across the hydrogen value chain until 2050.

    During my time at the National Experts Programme, I had the privilege of being mentored by Dr Sultan Al Jaber, UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology. Under his guidance, I worked on a phase-by-phase capstone project to develop an integrated approach to the UAE’s hydrogen strategy. It aims to maximise value creation and boost the country’s global positioning in the hydrogen sector by combining all key national players’ institutional strengths.

    The strategy’s first phase has already been implemented, with key national energy players such as Adnoc, Mubadala and Taqa joining forces to lead the green hydrogen projects at Masdar. Produced through the electrolysis of water powered by renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power, green hydrogen can be used for commercial, domestic, mobility or industrial purposes. Furthermore, green hydrogen is also a promising solution for decarbonising hard-to-electrify industry sectors such as marine shipping or aviation, all of which would require cost-effective zero-carbon fuels.

    By funding renewable energy initiatives at home and in emerging markets, the UAE can achieve transformative outcomes, fostering economic growth and development, and alleviating energy poverty. It will improve living standards and empower communities while enhancing the UAE’s diplomatic and soft power influence on the global stage.

    Reflective of this, the UAE has invested almost Dh165.6 billion in renewable energy projects around the world – at a time when the UN Trade and Development World Investment Report revealed that developing nations require $1.7 trillion a year to fund their clean energy sectors. However, only $544 billion worth of foreign investment was secured in 2022.

    It is a momentous challenge, but to ensure countries have access to clean energy requires a collective effort from several governments and follow the UAE’s example of financial contribution.

    The foundations have already been laid to drive further progress in 2024. September will see the UN General Assembly and Cop29 in Baku in November will provide another opportunity for high-level government ministers and experts to evaluate and develop strategic frameworks to help accelerate the renewable energy transition.

    Building a robust clean energy network will not happen overnight but vital global gatherings can open opportunities for more funding and agreements, leading to a greener economy and sustainable future for all.


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