Sham Jaff
Last updated: 13 May, 2013

UAE making green ideas happen and profitable

Concerned about high consumption behaviour, the Emirates are showing the will to make a firm move towards more sustainable societies.

When Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nayhan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, officially inaugurated Shams 1, the largest concentrated solar power plant (CSP) in Abu Dhabi in March 2013, the world turned to the United Arab Emirates as the green hub of the Middle East for the first time.

Providing electricity to 20 000 homes, the 100 MW grid-connected power plant will not only generate clean energy in the state’s political center itself, but set a standard for sustainable integrated energy policies within the region. 

But this is not new and awareness has long been raised. When the national campaign Heroes of the UAE was first launched in 2009 it was designed to increase awareness of energy shortages and the impact of climate change. Endorsed by numerous governmental ministries, the campaign provides the public with easy to follow tips and guidelines on how to avoid wasting energy. The UAE’s most read newspaper, Gulf News, participated in conveying this message to Emirati citizen with its own Wipe Out Waste campaign.

This is needed as domestic energy consumption per capita in the UAE is amongst the highest worldwide. According to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report, the UAE has thus one of the highest per capita ecological footprints in the world.

More concrete institutional changes have already been put to action. From January 2011, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) charges have been increased from 20 fils per kilowatt (KWh) to 23 fils per KWh for monthly consumptions below 2000 KWh. For consumptions more than 6000KWh per month, it has been increased from 33 fils to 38 fils per KWh. In the meantime, the Regulation and Supervision Bureau of the Emirate of Dubai with duties which concern the water, wastewater and electricity sector has introduced new types of bills to citizen in March 2013. Two separate bills are sent out showing the high Government subsidies and further provide with more information about managing water and electricity consumption. Energy subsidies have wide-ranging economic consequences in every country. While aimed at protecting consumers, they also distort resource allocation by encouraging excessive energy consumption and make the electricity and water bill seem less troubling.

In addition to raising greater environmental awareness, the goal is to develop sustainable energy policies overall.

The green policy of Abu Dhabi has spread to the state’s other emirates: the Emirate of Dubai is also pushing for renewable energy strategies. Tayeb Al Rais, Secretary General of Awqaf and Minors Affairs Foundation (AMAF) told Gulf News: “As part of our efforts to contribute to Dubai Strategic Plan 2015, we aim to convert a large number of mosques in Dubai into eco-friendly facilities that use green building materials, thermal insulation systems for lowering energy consumption, and air conditioners that emit less of greenhouse gases.” The first green mosque in the Middle East is scheduled for completion in March 2014 and will be located in Dubai.

Concerned about stagnating high consumption behaviour, Suhail bin Mohammed Al Mazrouei, the new minister of energy of the United Arab Emirates has called for national-level improvements in energy-use efficiency. In the spirit of “Whatever we consume at home we cannot sell overseas”, Mazrouei hailed a target set by Dubai for a 30% cut in demand by 2030 and called for steps at the federal level such as tougher building codes, stronger appliance standards, vehicle fuel standards, and strategic management of water and desalination investment. In comparison to worldwide standards, the UAE, according to the World Resources Institute, consumes 481 tonnes of oil equivalent (toe) energy to generate $1 million in gross domestic product, Mazrouei says. For the same level of economic output, Norway uses 172 toe, and Japan uses 154 toe.

While Abu Dhabi and Dubai are developing renewable energy projects, some of the cheapest renewable energy resources in the UAE are waste-to-energy in the emirate of Sharjah and wind in Fujairah. Both continue to strive towards becoming greener emirates and visions of reaching a ‘green city’ status by 2015 look set to become reality with numerous waste-to-energy facilities, especially with its Al Sajja Landfill in Sharjah.