x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Innovation will power the future

The UAE is leading the way in renewable energy research, but there is more to be done.

The UAE has made it clear that it is serious about investment in renewable energy, with Abu Dhabi being home to both the International Renewable Energy Agency and the Masdar ­Institute of Science and Technology, and host to last week’s Ascent climate summit. The country is also developing nuclear and solar power-generation facilities in its bid to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and diversify its economy.

While the UAE has garnered international recognition for its efforts, there remains much to be done to improve the efficiency and utility of alternative energy sources. The challenge is not just in the generation of “green” energy – which is often reliant on the cycles of day and night, the wind and the tides – but in storing it for future use. Reliable battery technology is now the great frontier in technological research.

The mobile phone market, which is reliant on the development of better batteries, serves as an example of how opportunity presents itself in the fields of research and innovation.

News this week of the availability of the YotaPhone in the UAE drew attention to a nimble Russian start-up called Yota Devices. The company is posing a serious challenge to the likes of Apple and Samsung, which have dominated the smartphone market in recent years, having themselves taken marketshare from firms such as Nokia, Motorola and BlackBerry. YotaPhone’s point of difference is its use of two screens, the second of which has an electronic paper display that will remain on, preserving an important note, map, boarding pass or other data even when the phone’s battery dies.

It is too early to declare the device, or its manufacturer, an unequivocal success; that may come with the release of a mass market version of the YotaPhone later this year. However, the lesson from the short history of mobile phones and other digital technology has been that small businesses with great ideas have often leapfrogged bigger industry players.

As a small country that has the investment funds, the flexibility, the ability to lure and nurture talent, and the stated will to succeed, the UAE is well placed to lead the way in research and innovation in many fields. The challenge is to identify areas where all this can be put to use, such as the development of better batteries to power the homes, cars, computers and phones of the future.