Gulf States Aware of Renewable Energy Potential

By Jack Cornforth* | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

ABI DHABI (IDN) – As the host of the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) in Abu Dhabi from January 15 to 17 and home of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Arab Emirates (UAE) positioned itself as an important player in the world of renewable energy.

The UAE, along with the five other states that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), can guarantee the regular strong sunshine necessary for large scale solar energy generation, and also possess ample space for, and conditions conductive, to wind farms.

Furthermore, in a time of global economic downturn, few other states can rival the vast financial resources at the disposal of the GCC, seeing them well placed to invest in the development and implementation of renewable technologies.

This is, however, only part of the picture. GCC members produce and consume vast amounts of heavily subsidised oil and gas; a source of great wealth but also a direct barrier to transitions to renewable energy. This applies for both these nations and the large number of other countries whose economies (and societies) are built upon the consumption of fossil fuels. All GCC states feature in the top 14 per capita emitters of carbon dioxide in the world, therefore also providing cause for environmental concern at the national, regional and global level.

Nonetheless, there are some positive signs that attitudes and approaches to energy within the GCC are starting to change. With per capita energy consumption in the GCC twice as high as the European average, coupled with increasing energy demand from growing populations, these nations now see renewables as an essential means of protecting their oil and gas reserves.

Moreover, with one third of the oil produced by Saudi Arabia being used to meet the domestic demand for energy, for example, there are economic, environmental and resource security drivers for the up-scaling of renewables.

This shift is also being facilitated by the fact renewables like wind and solar are becoming more cost effective in their own right, with technological advances enabling larger outputs at lower costs, thereby making them more attractive to both public and private investors in the region. It is therefore no surprise that we are seeing a trend for increasingly ambitious renewables projects across the GCC.

All GCC states have now introduced clean energy targets – for example, ahead of the Summit Saudi Arabia stated its intention to have a 54GW renewable energy output by 2032, and the UAE is aiming to have 7% of Abu Dhabi’s energy coming from renewable sources by 2020.

Yet, whilst representing positive statements of intent from these governments, reaching these targets will be dependent upon the far trickier processes of developing new policy frameworks – including the eventual phase out of fossil fuel subsidies, which massively distort the energy market and therefore also investment choices, despite the GCC’s comparative advantage for solar energy in particular.


Developing and utilising dynamic knowledge about the renewables resources and capacities available to the GCC countries will be essential to their up-scaling of green energy, a process which will be greatly aided by initiatives such as IRENA’s Renewables Readiness Assessment (RRA); something discussed by representatives from the GCC and other stakeholders in detail during an IRENA side event at the World Future Energy Summit (WFES).

Renewable Energy Roadmap

IRENA is currently conducting an RRA with the Government of Oman, with a view to the country devising a Renewable Energy Roadmap which will lay out the policies and required infrastructure necessary to reach its national renewable targets. In a region where the current development path is based almost entirely upon fossil fuels, the information provided by IRENA will be crucial to persuading both decision-makers to implement renewable energy strategies and the public to change consumption trends.

One of the myriad advantages of increasing the proportion of renewables in the region’s energy mix is the enormous opportunity for research and development (R&D) in solar, which, despite recent advances is still less able to compete with fossil fuels on pure economic terms than wind power, due to difficulties with achieving scale and storage of the power produced.

New technologies developed and tested in the GCC will serve to increase the efficiency and scalability of solar (and other renewables), thereby reducing costs whilst also increasing the potential for the energy produced to be exported to neighbouring regions. Not only would this serve to create an environment more conducive to investment in renewables, the dissemination of renewable energy, expertise and technology could help diversify Gulf economies and provide vital new sources of revenue.

Creating the infrastructure required to scale up renewables projects and export the energy produced to other countries will nevertheless require coordination of strategy and integration of projects across the region. While this is perhaps one of the greatest challenges to be overcome, IRENA and other intergovernmental agencies are currently working closely with the GCC to maximise cooperation and the alignment of each member country’s renewables plan.

As all the panellists at an IRENA, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Emirates Wildlife Society (EWS) side event at WFES on green energy in the Gulf agreed, while there is indeed much work to be done, the region presents one of the most compelling cases for the further advancement of renewables.

*Jack Cornforth is Assistant Editor of Outreach. A version of this article appeared first on Outreach. [IDN-InDepthNews – January 31, 2013]

2013 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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