Abu Dhabi, UAE continues to gain more regional and international recognition as a renewable and sustainable energy center. It is natural to think that Abu Dhabi is heavily dependent on oil and gas production. The Emirate, however, is looking to diversify its economy and energy future and it is spearheading various clean energy initiatives.
In one such example, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international body for the assessment of climate change, concluded meeting in the Emirate for its 33rd session last week. Working Group III of the IPCC released its influential Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN),
which is anticipated to facilitate efforts globally among policy makers, civil society and the private sector to pinpoint methods needed to integrate renewable energy technologies into future energy solutions. SREEN will act as a stepping stone to The IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report.
Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC, said: “The progress Abu Dhabi is making in the renewable energy sphere, it makes perfect sense for the IPCC to release this significant report in the UAE. Abu Dhabi is investing so heavily and responsibly in renewable energy. It is fast becoming the renewable energy center of gravity.”
In April, at the 2nd Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM) also held in Abu Dhabi, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu stated, “Working together, we can move faster to save money, create jobs and accelerate the transition to a clean energy future.” CEM’s member governments account for more than 80 percent of global energy consumption and a similar percentage of the market for clean energy technologies.
The Clean Energy Ministerial has established eleven ambitious initiatives, which should continue to demonstrate the central role that renewable energy will play in shaping our energy future. One matter too often overlooked globally is highlighted by one of CEM’s initiatives. The Solar and LED Energy Access Program (SLED) is designed to provide sustainable energy to those currently stuck in energy poverty--those without access to energy--in order to foster social and economic development.
There are estimates that at least 1.4 billion people globally lack access to electricity, over 80 percent in rural areas; and more than 2.5 billion people lack access to modern forms of energy, relying instead on inefficient biomass such as coal, wood, and animal dung for cooking, light and heat. These solid fuels are usually burned in inefficient stoves inside primitive homes, which lead to 1.6 million deaths annually from exposure to smoke--more than malaria--according to The World Health Organization. Providing distributed renewable energy infrastructure can lead to vast social and economic benefits, including education, health, safety, the creation of jobs, and entrepreneurship opportunities. Without access to energy, meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be that much more difficult to achieve.
My first opportunity to see a global call to action for universal energy access was specifically enunciated by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the 4th annual World Future Energy Summit (WFES), also held in Abu Dhabi, this past January, where I had the opportunity to participate as a delegate. The Summit, with the theme of “Enabling Future Energy Solutions,” is where Mr. Ban announced in his keynote address that 2012 will be the “International Year for Sustainable Energy for All” and he elaborated in detail about the horrors of energy poverty.
WFES is one of the world’s principal gatherings for the clean energy industry. It provides the medium for open dialogue and debate; and to share and develop ideas, relationships, innovation and investment necessary to reach the collective goal of a clean and sustainable energy future. The 2011 WFES was attended by international policy makers, industry leaders, innovators, investors, experts, academics, media from 36 countries, 600 exhibiting businesses from 31 countries, and 26,000 attendees from 112 countries.
In addition to Mr. Ban, the four day summit was highlighted by other prominent speakers, including heads-of-state, who mainly focused on their domestic energy priorities, UNFCCC President Christiana Figueres, who focused on climate change and COP16, IEA President Nobou Tanka, who touched on the rapidly growing energy demand from the developing world, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of Masdar, and national energy ministers were among the speakers. The daily schedule was further organized into policy, business, finance and investment, and technology forums with various parallel sessions such as global energy policy, what’s next for the wind industry and insights from innovators.
Despite the global prominence that WFES has garnered, the developed world represented a vast majority of the program with negligible developing world visibility. Additionally, aside from Mr. Moon’s keynote, energy access was far from a major topic. Only IEA President Nobou Tanaka and IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol commented on the scope of the issue within their speeches and underscored that renewable energy technologies need to play an integral role towards a solution. And only in one of the many breakout sessions was the epidemic of energy poverty mentioned.
Dr. Morgan Bazilian, Special Advisor to Kandeh Yumkellah, Director-General of UNIDO on international energy and climate issues, explained to a capacity audience his organization’s ambitious efforts to provide access to energy. Dr. Bazilian emphasized that UNIDO’s approach towards clean energy is through development and capacity building, but providing access to energy has common threads with all the topics at WFES. He also made sure to emphasize the size of the issue and the challenges they face, but he said there are immense opportunities for success.
A major presence at the 2011 WFES was Masdar, a project for carbon neutral living, which is being constructed on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of Masdar, addressed comprehensively the plan to build the world’s first carbon neutral city and the goal of having 40,000 residents. Through WFES, tours were provided of the ambitious city being constructed, enabling a glimpse into the future.
The city is now a test-bed for clean energy technology and my group was given a step-by-step tour of the progress. It was fascinating riding a computer controlled personal rapid transit vehicle, seeing the solar PV test field with new models and designs, and learning about the architecture of the buildings to maintain sustainability. I understand why upon touring Masdar a few days before me, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “When it (Masdar) pays off, it will not only mean a better life for the people in this country and in this region, it will have ripple effects throughout the world.”
Building from Masdar, the Emirate is working to a 7 percent renewable energy target by 2020. Not only that, but looking abroad, the Emirate has the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development and has offered $50 million in annual loans to finance renewable energy projects in developing nations. Furthermore, the International Renewable Agency (IRENA) has established its headquarters in Abu Dhabi. IRENA, established in 2009, is tasked to advance the adoption and sustainable use of all forms or renewable energy.
Therefore, it is no wonder that Abu Dhabi is influential in shaping a clean energy future. As Secretary Clinton explained to reporters, "The UAE is well positioned to compete in the 21st century because of its commitment to clean, renewable energy."
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