By: Dr. Abdalla AlAmiri, UAE University
Since the discovery of oil just over a century ago, the Middle East has experienced major economic growth from this bountiful resource under the ground. The world was a different place then to what it is now. Oil, it seemed, was the answer to all our prayers and for the most part it has been, and for that we are extremely grateful.
Now, in the 21st century, the world faces threats to its energy and environmental security like never before. Climate change coupled with the increased use of oil and gas around the world to power our modern lifestyles has contributed to the need to better manage our energy use. This is just as important for a hydrocarbon-based economy such as the UAE as it is for developed countries such as the United States.
The world average annual increase in demand for energy is around 4% whereas in the UAE it is 10%, and I’m sure we have similar figures for our other GCC neighbours. The lack of fresh water resources forces many countries in this region to invest in and run energy-intensive desalination plants, a major contributor to the increase in energy use. The car culture and excess cooling requirements in this part of the world is also to blame.
We need to strike a balance between our sources of energy and our use of this energy, whether it’s clean or conventional because the last thing we can afford to do is curb our progress and development in the region.
All of this is changing for the better I’m happy to say, initiatives such as Abu Dhabi’s major renewable energy project, Masdar, or the establishment last year of the world’s largest single energy management project in the Emirate helping to save 10 million tonnes of CO2 over the next decade.
Dubai’s commitment to sourcing 5% of its total power supply from alternative energy sources, clearly demonstrates that pursuing a sustainable energy future in this part of the world is certainly not a false economy.
Regionally we’re not alone in our green endevours, our neighbours in Qatar for example have started construction work on a US$1 billion polysilicon plant (polysilicon is the raw material used in solar panels) in Ras Laffan Industrial City, right at the heart of the country’s oil and gas processing operations.
Obviously there is always room for improvement particularly in terms of best practices and technologies in energy conservation, efficiency and management. Inspired by the vision of environmental sustainability of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, founder and President of the United Arab Emirates, the annual Zayed Future Energy Prize seeks out the leaders of renewable energy and sustainability from around the world.
As a member of the Prize’s Review Committee, determining the candidates who will make it through to the final selection process of the Prize has been a good problem to have if it means that we are able to create a more sustainable future for our global society. Although we didn’t see too many entries from the Middle East this year, I’m sure there is much innovation potential that is just waiting to be tapped particularly in the fast-growing and ever-diverse GCC economies. The UAE alone is home to no less than 215 different nationalities each of whom bring their unique experiences and ideas, given this, I look forward to seeing more home-grown innovation from our region in subsequent years of the Prize.
Abdalla AlAmiri is Associate professor in Mechanical Engineering at UAE University and is an advisor to the UAE Minister of Education on Strategic Affairs since August 2007.