Energy & Mining

A Brighter Future – Energy Diversification in the UAE

With flagship projects such as the impressive Al Dhafra project, Abu Dhabi is positioned as one of the world leaders in the development of renewable and nuclear assets.

Energy diversification is currently one of the most important objectives of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, which hopes to increase the contribution of clean energies to its energy matrix to 31% by 2025. Green energies currently account for 13% of the energy generated, though the country has major projects underway, such as the Al Dhafra solar project, which will be a giant step toward Abu Dhabi’s goal of reaching 60% clean energy by 2035 and meeting the UAE’s net zero target by 2050.

With 3.5 million solar panels, the Al Dhafra project is scheduled to come online in 2023 with a generating capacity of 2GW. The project, located 35km from Abu Dhabi, will provide power to the Emirates Water and Electricity Company (EWEC) to supply around 160,000 homes in the UAE. It is one of the most important projects in the Emirates and the largest single-site solar power plant in the world. The project is being developed by state-owned TAQA, Masdar, JinkoPower, and EDF.

“Our first renewable project in the region is the iconic 800MW Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai,” said Luc Koechlin, MD & CEO for the Middle East at EDF Group. “By 2030, the full plant capacity is due to reach 5,000MW, which will save over 6.5 million tons of carbon emissions annually,” he added.

EWEC expects to have a generation capacity of 7.3GW by 2030, in addition to having installed some 300MW of battery energy storage systems; however, while taking steps to become a solar powerhouse, Abu Dhabi and the UAE are also working to prevent renewable energy intermittency, i.e. only having electricity when the sun shines. One of the strategies to achieve this is through innovative hydro storage projects, such as the creation of lakes on Hatta Mountain.

Another essential component of the transformation to a clean energy system is the Barakah nuclear power plant, with three of its four generating units already operational. Located in the Gharbiya region of Abu Dhabi, once completed, its rated capacity will be up to 5,380MW, which could cover 25% of the UAE’s energy needs.

As part of these efforts to diversify the country’s energy matrix, companies such as ADNOC are closing agreements with global energy industry leaders to further this transition process. “We are transforming the country, and we are working with ADNOC as a strategic partner on this path,” said Elias Kassis, Managing Director of TotalEnergies E&P UAE.

This multi-energy company, which is also focused on its own expansion into clean energy beyond traditional oil and gas, plays an important role in the country with a wide range of services in the area of decarbonization, such as carbon capture and sequestration, biofuels development, and solar and wind energy. However, its goal is to also make oil and gas production more efficient by reducing emissions and at a lower price. All of these offerings from oil majors such as TotalEnergies are helping to smooth Abu Dhabi’s energy transition.

This environmental trend is also prompting foreign companies that have been active in the energy sector in the UAE for many years, such as MMEC Mannesmann, to seek new opportunities. “Two years ago, we decided to establish a new business for renewable energy in step with global trends towards hydrogen and energy transition,” said CEO Anas Aljuaidi.

In the field of green hydrogen, one of the most important initiatives stems from the USD5-billion partnership signed in late 2022 between ENGIE and Masdar to advance the development of this clean energy source in Abu Dhabi. “ENGIE and Masdar will collaborate on several projects, with the objective of starting construction on one of the two projects in 2023 and the second one in 2024, though it is worth noting that it is still early days as the industry in still in its infancy,” said ENGIE Managing Director Frederic Claux. The goal is to have these facilities in operation by 2025.

For all these large-scale projects to be effective and become a reality, it is essential to expand the capacity of the network in the emirate. The company in charge of this is the state-owned TAQA subsidiary Abu Dhabi Transmission and Despatch Company (Transco). “The power sector over the next few decades will need to not only be 100% non-emitting, but also, much larger and able to accommodate the huge deployments of variable renewable energy resources like solar, and wind,” said Afif Saif Al Yafei, CEO at Transco. At the end of the day, the transmission sector in which Transco operates is key to connecting energy generation and storage systems to meet supply and demand.