Energy & Mining

Betting Big on Renewables

Despite its fast-paced urbanization, Abu Dhabi and the UAE are giving environmental conservation their utmost attention.

Although most wouldn’t count the UAE among global leaders in green initiatives, the country’s drive to protect the environment shouldn’t come as a surprise. The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, famously stated in his Strategic Vision 2003 that, “the responsibility to fight the current environmental challenges falls onto this generation, both governments and people, to realize a better future for coming generations.”

Long before climate change and sustainability gained global uptake, Late Sheikh Zayed issued the Environment Protection and Development Law (Federal Law 24 of 1999), which came into force in February 2000. And as the country celebrates 2018 as the Year of Zayed, marking 100 years since Sheikh Zayed’s birth, it only makes sense that the year kicked off with the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) announcing two nationwide initiatives to protect the biodiversity of the UAE coastline.

Over the course of the year, the Ministry aims to plant 30,000 new mangrove trees across the country in a bid to safeguard the natural coastal ecosystem, highlighting once more the importance of appropriate conservation measures to protect the blue carbon ecosystems. Indeed, mangroves have an incredible ability to act as “blue carbon” reservoirs, removing carbon from our atmosphere and oceans and storing it in plants and sediment. The move is being supported by the second initiative, which aims to boost local coral species with a cultivation project.

For Abu Dhabi, there is no greater crisis to tackle than water security. Water in the UAE comes from four different sources — ground water (44%), desalinated seawater (42%), treated wastewater (14%), and surface water (1%). Published by Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), Environment 2030 forecasts that both fresh and brackish underground water will be exhausted within 55 years if mitigation measures are not taken.

The government has addressed this issue by using waste treated water for irrigation. In 2017, the Abu Dhabi Municipality reported that 76% of the water used in landscapes was treated water. But tackling environmental concerns is not the government’s job alone; at 550 liters per day, the UAE has one of the highest per capita water consumption rates in the world, consuming about 15% of the world’s desalinated water. As a result, the government is working to control that by educating young people, regulating groundwater extraction, and investing in new energy efficient sea water desalination, among other steps. What’s more, MOCCAE, in coordination with the Ministry of Education, agreed to introduce sustainability programs and green curricula in every school, with a pilot scheme rolling out in 2018.

Moreover, the country launched the UAE Water Security Strategy 2036 in September 2017 and its crown project is Abu Dhabi’s new reservoir. Built at a cost of AED1.6 billion after 15 years of planning, the world’s largest reserve of high-quality desalinated water was launched in January 2018.

While all these initiatives play a vital role in preserving the environment, they make up only one part of the solution; undertaking measures to develop robust plans for producing energy, through renewables is the other. And the UAE government is well on course as it aims to generate 27% of its total energy needs from clean sources by 2021 and 50% by 2050.

Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of MOCCAE, told TBY that, “Global trends show that renewables are competing with conventional power sources both in terms of the size of investments and the capacity that is brought to the market. The UAE has the advantage of sunlight all year long, which gives us a resource we can utilize at any time. Our government aims to invest AED600 billion in clean energy by 2050 to meet the growing demand, with projected savings of almost AED700 billion.”

In order to achieve set goals, the country’s largest Emirate, Abu Dhabi, needs to play the chief role—its electricity consumption per household is 10 times higher than world averages. So far, the Emirate has committed more than USD15 billion to renewable energy programs through the Masdar initiative, focusing on the development and commercialization of technologies in renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon management and monetization, water usage, and desalination. Despite their interdependencies and the adoption of the Estidama pearl rating system for all new constructed buildings, the water-energy nexus is still a critical issue in Abu Dhabi and the UAE, one that urgently needs an innovative solution.