x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

A lot of work ahead for Dubai’s green energy plans to take shape

Dubai's State of Energy Report has a green vision that fits with plans to meet half of the 2020 Expo’s requirements from on-site renewable energy. But it is more than just a marketing tool.

Simultaneously with the visit of the Expo 2020 delegation to Dubai last week, the emirate opened its first large solar power facility, and released its State of Energy Report.

The report’s green vision fits with plans to meet half of the Expo’s requirements from on-site renewable energy, but it is more than just a marketing tool. It lays out a strategy that has been unfolding over the past three years.

That strategy is right – now all parts of government, businesses and communities need to play their part in realising it.

The 200-page report, to which I contributed, reaffirms Dubai’s integrated energy strategy. Key features are to reduce energy consumption by 30 per cent below “business as usual” by 2030, and diversify the emirate’s electricity sector from total reliance on gas into nuclear, solar and clean coal.

The plan is environmentally sound – but even more than that, it is critical for the emirate’s economic well-being and security.

No longer a major hydrocarbon producer, Dubai is increasingly dependent on oil and gas imports, at prices much higher than those of the past. Water for the fast-growing population all has to be provided by desalination, a highly energy-intensive process.

And world cities, especially those hosting major international events, face ever more scrutiny of their green credentials.

If, as the leading Emirati commentator Sultan Al Qassemi argued recently, Gulf cities are new leaders of Arab culture and economics, Dubai and its sisters need also to lead on the environment.

What is Dubai doing differently from its Arabian Gulf neighbours? Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, for example, both have ambitious solar and efficiency programmes. The key difference is in the pattern of Dubai’s DNA: it relies on price mechanisms and the private sector to achieve environmental goals.

Dubai’s Government sets policy and leads by example, as with Dewa’s Al Quoz building, rated “platinum” for efficiency (the highest rating accorded by Leed, the international standard for green building codes). Raising power and water prices has been vital to reining in unsustainable consumption.

But the Government cannot simply decree a green future.

Achieving Dubai’s energy goals requires literally millions of decisions by businesses and residents – to fit solar panels on a villa roof, turn off an unnecessary light, fix a leaking tap, buy a hybrid car or take the Metro.

With the right encouragement, private companies and individuals can spot opportunities to save energy – and to create new green businesses, not just for the emirate but the region. Private companies will be attracted to finance and implement energy efficiency schemes.

A more measured pace of development and stricter building codes should make the new generation of property much more environmentally friendly than the legacy of the last boom.

Of course, as part of a federation, Dubai’s environmental ambitions are both supported and constrained. Nuclear power is meant to provide 12 per cent of the emirate’s electricity by 2030 – only possible as part of the UAE’s overall programme.

The release of Dubai’s first greenhouse gas inventory is an important complement to Abu Dhabi’s, which came out in May.

Some other issues need federal policy to move ahead – for example integrated public transport with rail and metro links throughout the country. There should be a national policy on reducing petrol subsidies to alleviate waste, smog and congestion. Imported appliances such as air conditioners should meet strict minimum standards for efficiency.

Given high levels of water use, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and lifestyles of conspicuous consumption, Dubai’s ambitions will face scepticism. The next few years are critical for the emirate to translate green plans into a gold standard for the region’s energy and environment.

Robin Mills is the head of consulting at Manaar Energy, and the author of The Myth of the Oil Crisis and Capturing Carbon