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Oil-Rich Arab Nation Looks To Renewable Energy

by Meena S Janardhan

Future Looks Rosy, Oil Industry Says

(IPS) DUBAI -- A country that produces nearly 2.5 million barrels of crude oil per day has little reason to look anywhere else. However, regard for the environment and the realization that fossil fuel reserves may not last forever have induced authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to consider renewable energy options.

The setting up of the first-ever Department of Renewable Energy in the Ministry of Electricity and Water last year is a clear example of the interest in clean energy sources. The department will be responsible for drawing up a national program to assess the use of these sources; encouraging their use; disseminating technologies and conducting awareness programs.

"We know that renewable energy is the future, even though we are an oil-producing country," said Saud Al Humaidan, the ministry's assistant undersecretary for technical affairs, in a press statement.

"There is no doubt we have good oil reserves, but one can't be sure how long they will last. Renewable energy should be seen not only as an alternative energy, but also as a cleaner and better option," he added.

Forecasts suggest that by 2050, up to half of the UAE's required energy will come from renewable sources. Solar energy, the cleanest source in environmental terms, is likely to form a large percentage.

"The UAE has tremendous renewable energy potential. It receives more than 300 days of sunshine in a year, so solar energy is the main source. Several parts have high wind speeds as well, hence wind energy is a good option too," said Pierre Jacques, a French engineer based in Dubai, one of the emirates.

Though most people consider solar energy as an expensive proposition especially in the UAE where power is cheap, the use of solar energy in the country is slowly increasing be it for the parking meters in Dubai, offshore buoys or solar water heating systems in some hotels.

"While the upfront cost for solar energy is high, solar thermal collectors used to generate hot water in homes, hotels and factories could save millions of dirhams per year in the UAE while reducing emissions," Ali Mohammed, a Dubai-based Pakistani electrical engineer, told IPS.

"One 100-flat apartment complex in Dubai is the first building in the Middle East to use solar power to cool the building by day, which the landlord says cuts utility bills by a third," he added.

While solar power links in remote desert regions have increased the coverage area of mobile phones, the use of solar power in telecommunications has reduced over 260 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year as well.

The hydrocarbons industry also employs solar power for both onshore and offshore facilities, which has reduced the need for constant mechanical maintenance.

"Solar power is not only restricted to remote locations. Major solar companies working with technical and academic institutions in the UAE are developing methods to incorporate large-scale solar power generation within new buildings," said Rakesh Mehta, an architect based in Sharjah, another emirate.

Added Ali, the Pakistani engineer: "Hotels are also getting solar-friendly. One hotel in Dubai has a solar-powered hot water system that meets their average requirement of around 25,000 litres a day. The initial cost outlay was recovered in four years and now their saving on energy costs is nearly 100 per cent."

Elsewhere in the region, in Saudi Arabia, solar power has been used for oilfield lighting systems, protection for pipelines, advertising signage and traffic signalling. In Iran, it has been used for lighting public parks, streets and even to power a water pump to provide water to 700 people in a remote village, which worked even in the snowy winters.

Wind energy too is receiving a fair amount of attention. "Several areas here enjoy strong and large amounts of wind such as the East Coast, Hatta and the western beach of Abu Dhabi," said Pierre.

"A minimum wind speed of seven metres per second is needed to produce power from this source and in most UAE areas the wind speed goes up to 12 metres per second. The UAE has the capacity to produce an estimated 1,000 megawatts of electricity every year using wind energy if utilized properly," he told IPS.

In fact, the country has just witnessed the setting up of a wind power plant on Sir Baniyas Island, a wildlife sanctuary off the coast of Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital. This is the first ever wind power project in the entire Arabian peninsula.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, director general of the President's Office, said in a statement, "The UAE is open to scientific innovations and will always be ready to adopt these innovations as long as they serve the local society...we are the first country in the Arabian peninsula to implement such a pioneering project."

Meanwhile, the emirate of Fujairah is planning to build several wind parks. In May 2002, seven solar-powered wind measurement towers were installed in various parts of the emirate to measure the amount, duration and strength of wind.

The analyses of these readings over a period of time will determine the feasibility of these parks. Each wind park is supposed to generate between 150 to 200 megawatts a year.

The harnessing of high-speed vehicle motion to produce wind-generated energy is also being assessed.

As for other renewable energy sources, Pierre explains, "As the UAE has no lakes and rivers, hydroelectric schemes are of little relevance. The Arabian Gulf coast has no large estuaries as well and has too small a tidal range for power generation."

Even among fossil fuels, the country is now looking towards the use of gas for power generation, as it is a cleaner and environment-friendly option. Statistics reveal that gas consumption in the Arab world is set to overtake oil demand in 2005.

According to a report published by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, the bulk of demand growth will be recorded in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other countries with relatively high energy consumption and steady growth in their industrial sector.

The report forecasts that the share of gas in the Arab energy market will rise from 48.9 percent in 2005 to 53.3 percent in 2015 to overtake oil, which will decline from 47.4 percent to 42.8 percent.

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Albion Monitor December 8, 2004 (

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