Categorized | Opinion

Sustainability on the rise in the UAE

Dr Michael Krämer, Senior Associate and Energy Specialist at international law firm Taylor Wessing, Dubai, outlines where he sees opportunities for the solar sector in the UAE

It is no secret that Dubai has put forward a bid to host the Expo 2020 and this is good news in any case. The vote takes place on November 27 and if Dubai wins it will have a dramatic effect on the country and once again focus attention on the emirate. It’s interesting how Dubai has sought to differentiate itself from its competitors Yekaterinburg in Russia, Izmir in Turkey and Sao Paulo in Brazil. A key focus of the Dubai 2020 bid has been sustainability.
Fifty percent of all energy needs for the Expo site (south of the city around Jebel Ali) will be generated on-site from renewable sources. In addition, a substantial amount of recycled materials will be used for the construction, while waste water will be recycled and reused as well.
Dubai’s Expo related efforts are just one element of a general trend towards a more sustainable lifestyle in the UAE, however. Let us not forget, the UAE is still one of the biggest carbon emitters globally, so this new trend is very welcome indeed.
Both, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) and the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA) are currently looking more closely into encouraging commercial enterprises and residents to install solar plants on the roofs of their facilities and homes. At present, energy generated from comparatively small solar plants is still more expensive than the (highly subsidised) power supply from the public grid. Hence, both DEWA and ADWEA are looking into offering schemes that will aim to bridge the gap between conventional energy supply and self-generated solar energy. It is not yet clear how these incentive schemes will look like in the end, but it seems safe to assume that private investments into solar energy generation will become an interesting proposition.
The beauty of the utilities creating incentives for private solar investments is manifold. Not only will it be possible for those who are interested in living a more sustainable lifestyle to supplement their energy requirements with clean energy. It will also have an overall learning effect since energy generation will become more visible.
At present, electricity is just something that is a) produced somewhere far away with nobody really having an interest where electricity is coming from and b) cheap, so c) electricity is not really on anybody’s mind. An unwanted side effect of this is that we tend to waste anything we do not have any relationship with which, in turn, is a major reason for the fact that carbon emissions in the UAE are so high.
This will change if electricity becomes more tangible. A positive side effect of people generating their own energy is that these people tend to become much more conscious of what it takes to produce the energy we tend to take for granted. In the medium term, this will encourage people to take a more responsible approach towards energy usage. There is a large gap between using energy irresponsibly and being a treehugger. Yet, there is no need to transform the UAE population into treehuggers (which would be difficult anyway, given that there are probably more people than trees in this country), but people using their minds when using energy would be a fair start indeed.
We are, no doubt, just at the beginning of a process of transformation of the UAE into a country that supports a more sustainable approach to its environment. The wheels are in motion, however, and are slowly picking up speed. As with so many other things before, the UAE is spearheading this move in the region and we have the chance to be part of it. History unfolding. Good news for the region.

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