Dubai Is Making Its Green Energy Dreams Come True
The largest source of clean energy is expected to be solar power, as the UAE works to reach net zero emissions by 2050
The United Arab Emirates is working to achieve its mission of becoming the first country in the Middle East to reach net zero emissions, with a target date of 2050. Dubai, the most populous of the UAE’s seven emirates, now gets 14% of its total 14,517 megawatts capacity from solar power.
It is a sign that the sunny, metropolitan emirate is keen on making renewable energy available to homes as well as industry, and a clear, eco-friendly message from the entire UAE – the third-largest exporter of crude oil in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) – whose new chief has made clean energy a priority.
“Increased solar production will remove demand for oil and gas internally,” Middle East energy analyst Dr. Cyril Widdershoven told The Media Line.
The less the internal demand for oil and gas, the more that can be exported, or that can be invested in businesses that use the oil and gas, known as downstream investment, explained Widdershoven.
“Look at the major downstream investments of ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company) and parties,” he said. “The potential is enormous, but will also need major investments in storage, as the sun even in the UAE is not 24/7, so when demand for energy is highest (such as nights/evenings/winter), solar production is low,” he added.
The UAE currently relies on thermal power for most of its electricity supply. In 2021, thermal power accounted for 92.6% of its total electricity generation. Therefore, diversifying energy sources has been a key strategic priority for the country, explains Professor Tadhg O’Donovan, deputy vice principal at Heriot-Watt University in Dubai.
“The UAE aims to generate 50% of its electricity from carbon-free sources, driven mainly by solar PV (photovoltaics, or solar panels), by 2050,” O’Donovan said. “For example, Abu Dhabi plans to install 5.6 gigawatts of solar PV capacity by 2026, and Dubai aims to source 75% of its electricity generation from renewables by 2050 primarily through solar PV.”
As with most technologies, solar power will become cheaper as more people and entities invest in it
The Gulf country has previously said that it wants to meet 30% of its power needs using clean energy by 2030. Currently, the largest source of clean energy is expected to emerge from solar power, which also provides space for hydrogen.
Simultaneously, the country has been assigning large spaces of land for use as solar panel parks, both photovoltaic, or PV, and Concentrated Solar Power, or CSP, to increase the deployment of renewable power plants in the country to ensure they meet the local demand, O’Donovan explains.
“As with most technologies, solar power will become cheaper as more people and entities invest in it. Therefore, it is expected that, over time, the hardware prices for solar technology will decline. Along with good financing and a flourishing local business climate, this can contribute to lower prices in the long term,” added O’Donvoan. He explains that onshore wind and utility-scale solar are known to be the cheapest energy sources, costing less than gas, geothermal, coal or nuclear.
The UAE currently operates three nuclear power reactors that also provide the country’s grid with energy. Described on its website as a “powerhouse” for the UAE’s sustainable development, energy security, and stability, the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant has generated high-value jobs and clean energy for the country.
“In reality, renewable energy sources such as solar are unlikely to enable us to reach zero emissions alone,” Hamed Fathi, director and general counsel of Dubai-based International Marine & Energy, told The Media Line.
Fathi points out that most governments have started investing in sustainable fuels, such as used cooking oils, blue and green hydrogen, and ammonia, though none of these are without their own issues. “Some of the problems encountered so far include the inefficiency of the technology at producing sufficient energy, production of toxic waste as a by-product, availability of resources, cost of production and efficiency of combustion, and availability of natural resources,” Fathi said.
Fathi adds that as a company they have not managed to harness the use of solar energy in bunkering operations, or supplying fuel to sea vessels. One reason is that solar panels can produce a very limited amount of energy and at best with the current global fleet of vessels, they can be employed only in hybrid formations. According to Fathi, proper studies into the ability of solar panels to withstand the stresses of the oceans are needed. Meanwhile, there are many studies looking at whether solar and wind energies can be harnessed to supplement the energy requirements of diesel generators onboard vessels, in order to reduce emissions by these generators.
“The bigger issue, however, is coming up with solutions to deal with the fuel-oil-based engines of larger vessels, and the good news is significant advances are being made toward more sustainable fuels being used and less polluting fuels plugging the gap in the interim phase while the race toward sustainability continues to gather pace,” he explained.
The UAE will be hosting COP28 United Nations Climate Change Conference this year, which is one reason why the country also is looking for solutions to the region’s climate challenges. The MENA region overall is facing the challenge of diversifying energy sources while consumption continues to increase. Some major solar energy projects in the UAE include the Shams 1 solar project in Abu Dhabi, the concentrated solar power project in Dubai, and the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai.
Renewables will allow countries to diversify their economies, rely less on imports and be less impacted by unpredictable price fluctuations of fossil fuels. Overall, this will drive inclusive economic growth and alleviate poverty. Most importantly, it can create an economic system less prone to market shocks and improve resilience and energy security.
Late last year, Masdar City, a planned city project in Abu Dhabi, announced that it will work together with Germany’s Uniper energy supply company to produce green hydrogen in the UAE within the next three years.
“Saudi Arabia is now looking at offshore or even floating wind in the Red Sea/Gulf of Aqaba. The UAE could do the same,” explained Widdershoven.
Not only solutions to climate issues but also energy transition is expected to help economies diversify their revenue streams. The International Energy Agency issued a report in 2021 that estimates that the transition toward net-zero emissions will create an estimated 14 million new jobs in clean energy-related industries ranging from manufacturing electric vehicles to finding innovative solutions for pressing issues such as transporting hydrogen.
“Renewables will allow countries to diversify their economies, rely less on imports, and be less impacted by unpredictable price fluctuations of fossil fuels. Overall, this will drive inclusive economic growth and alleviate poverty. Most importantly, it can create an economic system less prone to market shocks and improve resilience and energy security,” said O’Donvoan.
“I believe we will likely see a ‘transition’ of jobs rather than a loss or creation of jobs. Clearly, as the use of carbon-emitting fuels becomes less prevalent, that will trigger a slimming down in the manual labor requirements of the industry,” added Fathi.