By Dallas Blaney
Few places in the world are as accustomed to change as Abu Dhabi. In just forty years, this once isolated village on the Persian Gulf has become a modern bustling city and a burgeoning global tourist destination. Today, concert promoters here book big time acts like Madonna and Eminem, the Formula 1 Grand Prix roars through its streets, and an evening stroll down the Corniche reveals a breathtaking view of twisting skyscrapers set against a crisp blue desert sky. In Abu Dhabi, it seems that the passion for change has simply become a defining feature of life and local identity.
Unfortunately, all of this change comes at a high price. Abu Dhabi currently has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest per capita rates of energy consumption in the world. Recent projections suggest that the Emirate faces a further doubling of energy demands over the next decade. To meet these demands, it has relied almost exclusively on traditional sources of power generation, especially natural gas. However, it seems that mounting evidence of the environmental and economic costs of these traditional systems have convinced the political class to consider making the shift to alternative energy sources.
So once again it seems that Abu Dhabi is braced for yet another transformation, only this time the change involves something much more base, something more fundamental than an urban development scheme or a highway construction project. Put simply, this change involves the reconfiguration and diversification of its energy portfolio. And if recent activity is a reliable bellwether, all signs thus far suggest that Abu Dhabi will likely rise to the occasion.
Perhaps the most promising sign is the Emirate’s development of a $600 million concentrated solar power station in the remote village of Madinat Zayed. This 741 acre facility, named Shams 1, features a unique combination of solar and natural gas power generation systems, which, when completed, will produce enough energy to power 20,000 homes. This first of a kind system uses solar radiation to produce steam, which is then superheated by natural gas furnaces to yield turbine engine outputs of up to 100 megawatts.
Not only will this project help immensely to satisfy compounding domestic energy demands but it may also yield a commercially viable energy technology system. When compared to a comparable traditional power generation system, this technology yields 175,000 fewer tons of carbon dioxide, which is roughly equivalent to the savings achieved by planting 1.5 million trees or removing 30,000 cars from the road. Once the system is up and running, this achievement will likely position Abu Dhabi among the foremost world leaders in renewable technology development and deployment.
Ultimately, Abu Dhabi’s greatest attribute has been and always will be its extraordinary ability and willingness to adapt to new conditions. Given the recent inaction in Washington and elsewhere, let us all hope that Abu Dhabi continues to pursue the development of renewable energy technology. Such technology is not just good news for the people of Abu Dhabi, but it is good news for people everywhere who desire to live in a more verdant and healthy environment.
Ed Note: Travel expenses for the Author and TriplePundit were provided by Masdar.