However, it will be exporting fossil fuels to meet growing Asian demand for the foreseeable future
he increased frequency of climate-induced weather extremes and public opinion pressure are forcing even major fossil fuel exporting countries in West Asia to make a big push towards renewable energy.
In January alone, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) hosted the Gulf Intelligence UAE Energy Forum, the World Future Energy Summit, the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week and a Future Sustainability Summit. February onwards, Dubai will have the International Conference on Renewable and Sustainable Energy, International Conference on Green Energy and Environmental Technology, with a Green Week and a Congress on Biofuels and Bioenergy later this year.
The UAE is the world’s 7th largest exporter of crude oil, with 5.5% of market share, but is promoting itself as a low-carbon country. Masdar City, a model for sustainable urban living is coming up outside Abu Dhabi which is designed by Foster and Partners architects.
A 10MW solar farm outside the city provides solar power for the office buildings, which includes the regional headquarters of Siemens and IRENA (the International Renewable Energy Agency). Oil industry conclaves that used to focus on global price trends, prospecting and new oil fields now have plenary panels on solar and wind.
“We are serious about energy security, and we have a strategy for an energy mix that includes renewables,” said Suhail bin Mohammed Faraj Faris Al Mazrouei, UAE Minister of Energy and Industry at the opening of the UAE Energy Forum earlier this month. That decarbonisation plan would mean the country by 2050 will be producing 38% of its energy from gas, 44% from renewables, 6% from nuclear and the use of clean coal will drop to 12%.
In the rest of the oil-rich Gulf region, petroleum-based energy will drop from the current 91% to 41%, and renewables will go up from 9% today to 59% .
Of the UAE’s 10 million population, 90% are expatriates and the country’s per capita carbon footprint is 23 tons per year. Although a low carbon trajectory would reduce total emissions, the UAE will remain a major exporter of fossil fuels into the future.
Even so, the writing was on the wall in Abu Dhabi throughout January – conference delegates felt there is no option but to move from oil to more a more efficient fossil fuel like gas, and promote utility scale solar and wind.
Even oil industry executives called for a green approach. Raoul Restucci, Managing Director of Petroleum Development Oman says: “Rising energy needs … climate change pressures and technological innovation mean that national oil companies must gravitate towards renewables for longer-term competitiveness and sustainability.”