One to watch Saudi Arabia

25 DEC 2016

Dr. Raed Bkayrat

When Saudi Arabia launched its Vision 2030 earlier this year, the solar industry, almost collectively, took notice. As any industry veteran will tell you, Saudi Arabia was always spoken of in speculative terms at conferences, and in private. Vision 2030 – with its initial goal of delivering 9.5 gigawatts (GW) of solar – effectively changed that.

To say that Saudi Arabia has the potential to emerge as a solar energy powerhouse, is no longer speculation. What makes Vision 2030 and the King Salman Renewable Energy Initiative different from previous programs announced by the country, is that they represent the highest level commitment to renewable energy ever seen from the Kingdom. The “initial” target suggests that the country will grow its renewable energy capacity in increments, taking advantage of future cost declines and efficiency improvements, while also leaving the door open for emerging technologies. 

Many observers also point to the fact that the Vision 2030 commits to guaranteeing “the competitiveness of renewable energy through the gradual liberalization of the fuel market.” This is clear evidence that the government fully intends to deliver on its renewable energy goals. 

Subsidies for conventional fuels tend to hinder the adoption of renewables in many net energy exporting countries, for the simple reason that renewables simply cannot compete on an uneven playing field where subsidized oil is fueling domestic power generation. By liberalizing the fuel market, Saudi Arabia will effectively grant renewable energy technologies a level playing field on which to successfully compete against conventional generation, as they currently do in other markets. 

And as the industry awaits the launch of the King Salman Renewable Energy Initiative and the tangible timelines that will go with it, the Kingdom would do well to take three steps to avoid the pitfalls that other fast-emerging markets have faced, in order to reach its goals.  

First, Saudi Arabia should consider taking a consultative approach while developing its renewable energy policy framework by leaning on capable, credible industry partners to share their expertise. This will help the country avoid the steep learning curve that others have sometimes stumbled down from. A rapidly ramped-up renewable energy strategy comes with its own regulatory, economic, and technical challenges, and there are a number of case studies from around the world that demonstrate how things must – or, conversely, mustn’t – be done.  

Second, the Kingdom should consider diversifying its renewable energy portfolio with provisions for application-focused commercial and industrial (C&I) projects. For instance, it could go above and beyond establishing a utility-focused solar program, and provide long-term solar energy targets for certain, energy-intensive industrial sectors such as agriculture, cement, steel, and petrochemical manufacturing. Encouraging some of the country’s heaviest consumers of electricity to invest in offsetting their energy needs with solar, will deliver the immediate benefit of taking the pressure off existing utility-scale power generation assets. 

Similarly, the energy-intensive desalination sector could, quite feasibly, move towards the use of Reverse Osmosis technology which can easily be powered by solar photovoltaic (PV) technology. Additionally, the Kingdom’s use of diesel generation in off-grid areas, also offers opportunities to introduce hybrid – solar-diesel – applications.    

And finally, it will be critical for the authorities overseeing the Initiative to underpin its success by engaging with lenders and financiers. When you consider that the cost of financing still accounts for a large chunk of the Levelized Cost of Electricity, it will be critical for Saudi Arabia to facilitate competitive finance. 

In fact, it will be particularly important for banks and lenders based in the Kingdom to better understand the solar energy industry, ensuring that they’re comfortable with providing competitive financing for the program. Encouraging locally-based lenders to participate also allows the Kingdom to reap broader economic benefits from the program. 

Saudi Arabia is on the cusp of fully embracing its potential to harness its most abundant energy resource – sunlight. A collaborative, multi-pronged strategy can only accelerate its success. 

Dr. Raed Bkayrat is the Vice President of Business Development for First Solar in the Middle East.

01 SEP 2020

ADSW: A shining example of the UAE tackling global challenges

In a world dominated by self-interest and an endless chase of quick wins, where quid pro quo is the rule rather than the exception, voluntary acts that are intended to serve the greater good tend to raise eyebrows.

In this context, the UAE’s proactive approach to shaping a better future has made the world sit up and take notice. After all, why would a country that can comfortably rely on its oil revenues deploy clean energy solutions and become an active advocate of sustainability at home and abroad?

The answer is simple. It stems from the values that the founding fathers of the UAE, led by the late Sheikh Zayed, instilled in their people from the early days of the federation. They taught us that working for the benefit of the human race is the ultimate achievement to which anyone can aspire.

Our leadership today upholds this legacy and has shouldered the responsibility of advancing a sustainable development paradigm that leaves no one behind.

One way of doing so is to create platforms that promote sustainability across the board, such as the annual Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW).

Over the course of 11 years, ADSW has carved a niche for itself as a dynamic sustainability solution-focused global platform that serves as a springboard for green innovations and mega projects.

Our last event drew a record 38,000 people representing 170 countries, including heads of state, ministers, investors and experts. Commercial projects valued at $11 billion were announced during the week, indicating that ADSW has become one of the world’s largest and most influential sustainability gatherings.

Events such as the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) Assembly, the Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum, the Future Sustainability Summit and the World Future Energy Summit strongly advocate global action towards renewable energy solutions. And through the Abu Dhabi Sustainable Finance Forum, ADSW promotes investments in sustainability ventures and raises awareness about responsible and sustainable production and consumption patterns.

The highlight of the week is the Zayed Sustainability Prize, that invites the world’s most sustainable innovators to compete for a cash prize and honours to translate their environment-friendly concepts into reality. The prize has a solid track record of supporting innovative solutions that have benefited millions over the past decade.

For its part, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment hosts the Climate Innovations Exchange (Clix) every year during ADSW. Clix offers young start-ups and innovators from across the globe a platform to present their solutions to environmental challenges and facilitates partnerships between start-ups and investors. Its inaugural edition last year featured 27 innovations and investors expressed their intent to fund projects to the tune of $17.5 million in the first year. In 2019, the number of innovations surged to 41 and investment intent saw a corresponding increase to $53.9 million.

ADSW presents to the world a shining example of the UAE’s active involvement in tackling the challenges faced by the international community – an approach that reflects the visionary mindset of our leaders.

Recognising that global concerns can only be addressed through concerted action, the UAE has committed to generating the momentum needed to build a sustainable future for all. We invite the world to participate in ADSW 2020 from January 11 to 20, and to join us in empowering humanity to leapfrog into a new era of sustainability.


Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi is the UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment


24 NOV 2016

ADSW 2017: First advisory council amidst renewable growth

Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW), the Middle East’s largest gathering on sustainability, will host an elite group of industry experts to advise on the event’s continued success in translating the global mandate for renewable energy and clean technologies into concerted policy and business action.

Held every January, ADSW welcomes heads of state, government ministers and international trade delegations – among a diversity of other stakeholders – to address the world’s most critical sustainability issues on the themes of Policy, Leadership, Business, Academic Research, and Community Awareness.

The first ADSW Advisory Council will take place on January 17, the day after the event’s formal opening ceremony, and every year thereafter. It will also follow Global Action Day, a high-level event aimed at translating global aspirations for sustainability into practical and innovative policy, investment, technology and partnership solutions.

The Council’s membership comprises both international and Middle East-based opinion leaders, all long-standing supporters of and speakers at ADSW and in many cases, passionate advocates of the Zayed Future Energy Prize, which distributes an annual prize fund of US$4 million to exceptional companies, individuals and schools implementing renewable energy and sustainability solutions.

The Council members are Adnan Amin, Director General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA); Rachel Kyte, Chief Executive Officer of Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) and Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for SEforALL; Her Excellency Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary General of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi; Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director, International Energy Agency; Marie Jose Nadeau, Chair of the World Energy Council; Michael Liebreich, Founder and Chairman of the Advisory Board, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and Board Member, Transport for London; David Sandalow, Inaugural Fellow, Columbia University; Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development, The Earth Institute, Columbia University; Dr Saif Al Sayari, Acting Director General, Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority; Dayae Oudghiri, Management Board Member of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN); Jonathon Porritt, Founder Director, Forum for the Future; and His Excellency Dr Nasser Saidi, Chairman of the Clean Energy Business Council.
ADSW 2016 received nearly 36,000 attendees representing 170 countries, 382 exhibiting companies, more than 200 high-level speakers and 80 government ministers.

“As a global platform for addressing the interconnected challenges of clean energy, water and sustainable development, Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week has developed lasting partnerships with many of the world’s most admired experts and opinion formers on sustainability issues,” said Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi, Chief Executive Officer of Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company and the host of ADSW.

“As we mark ten years of the World Future Energy Summit in 2017 and embark on the next decade of our expansion at Masdar, it is an honour to bring together some of our must trusted associates in charting the future evolution of the MENA region’s largest sustainability gathering.

“The guidance of the ADSW Advisory Council, representing the broadest cross-section of the sustainability domain, will ensure that ADSW continues to set the action-agenda from both a policy and business perspective – this is particularly important now that the clean energy sector has moved from the margins into the mainstream as a dynamic, commercially viable growth market,” Al Ramahi added.

ADSW 2017 takes places on the theme ‘Practical Steps Towards a Sustainable Future’ from January 12-21. The opening ceremony will initiate four days of presentations, discussions and workshops on a range of pressing topics across energy, water and waste. These include strategies to drive investment, implementation of the Paris Agreement, and the challenges of adapting existing infrastructure to the new market reality of small-scale, distributed power.

“As a long-standing supporter of ADSW and a keen advocate of the UAE’s efforts to advance the clean energy agenda, I am delighted to deepen my involvement in ADSW, and to help chart the course of its continued success,” said Michael Liebreich, Founder and Chairman of the Advisory Board, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and Board Member, Transport for London.

“Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s research has shown developing countries are overtaking the wealthiest economies in attracting clean energy investment, with the Middle East & North Africa playing a growing role. The global profile of ADSW is valuable in bringing emerging market opportunities to a wider stage, thereby enabling greater cooperation between developed and developing economies.”

ADSW 2017 will be the first global platform to debate practical approaches to the outcomes of COP22, the first UN climate summit to be held in the MENA region, with the agenda informed by the challenges of both emerging markets and developed economies, as well as the practical lessons they have learnt.

ADSW 2017 will also be an opportunity to reflect on the response to the Masdar Gen Z Global Sustainability Survey, unveiled at COP22, the first international study on the attitudes of 18-25-year-olds, the demographic cohort known as Generation Z, towards climate change, sustainability and renewable energy.


17 DEC 2016

ADSW 2017 focuses on tech for MENA’s water needs

Abu Dhabi, UAE, December 17, 2016 – Ground water scarcity exacerbated by increased water demand due to population growth and the effects of climate change – droughts, higher temperatures – is a critical sustainability challenge for many regions of the world. The Middle East & North Africa (MENA) is no exception.

As the gap between water demand and availability in the Arabian Gulf widens, the pressure on desalination technologies to meet water consumption needs inevitably grows.

At the next Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW), taking place from January 12-21, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company Masdar will present technical data from an innovative pilot programme that could pave the way for the commercial adoption of seawater desalination powered by clean energy.

The programme, which last month completed one year of operations, was announced at the inaugural International Water Summit (IWS) – one of the co-located exhibitions at ADSW – in January 2013.

It started with four small-scale desalination plants testing innovative energy-efficient desalination technologies; a fifth was launched in October this year, run by the French engineering company Mascara.

“The Mascara project uses reverse osmosis technology and is a showcase of an off-grid solution,” said Dr Alexander Ritschel, Head of Applications Development at Masdar’s Clean Energy division. “It can be operated independently, off-grid; it’s a 100% photovoltaics-powered desalination system. It also works without batteries and chemicals, so it’s a solution for remote locations.”

Mascara’s new plant produces 30 cubic metres of desalinated seawater per day, bringing the combined daily output of all five pilot plants in Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi to 1,500 cubic metres. The other partners in the programme are Abengoa, Suez, Sidem (Veolia) and Trevi Systems.

Altogether, four companies are evaluating reverse osmosis technology, while the fifth is researching forward osmosis. Reverse osmosis is a more energy efficient alternative to the thermal technology currently used for large-scale seawater desalination across the Arabian Gulf.

Forward osmosis is still an emerging technology but could be a viable long-term solution for hard-to-treat water sources such as highly saline water (including certain groundwater sources in the UAE or the brine stream ejected by desalination plants) or water containing significant amounts of organic matter.

“The results of our pilot programme after one year are very encouraging; performance in terms of reliability has been very high,” added Dr Ritschel. “The programme is preparing the ground for the transition expected to take place over the next decade from integrated water-and-power-generation plants to standalone, membrane-based desalination facilities powered only by electricity.”

With many conventional desalination installations nearing the end of their operational life over the next few years, and with potable water consumption in MENA expected to increase from 42 cubic kilometres per year in 2012 today to 200 cubic kilometres by 2050, the opportunities to deploy more energy-efficient alternatives, commercially and at scale, are increasingly coming under the spotlight.

The technologies being tested in Masdar’s Renewable Energy Desalination Programme are up to 40%-less energy intensive than thermal seawater desalination, according to Dr Ritschel.

The practical steps needed to advance clean-energy desalination will be a key topic at the next International Water Summit in January, which will focus on the needs of the MENA region. Other issues on the conference agenda include water project financing, waste water strategies and recycling, smart infrastructure, and water in the urban environment.

In parallel with adopting more sustainable methods to produce drinking water, the UAE is rolling out initiatives to reduce water demand. Unveiled at IWS two years ago, the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi is implementing a “water budget” aimed at the more responsible management of the emirates’ finite water resources.

The “budget” is based on a combination of strategies including reducing waste, increasing the efficiency of irrigation technologies and methods (forestry, agriculture and landscaping alone consume more than 80% of Abu Dhabi’s water supply) and reducing utility subsidies for residential consumers.

“Abu Dhabi’s daily rate of domestic water consumption is about 563 litres per capita, still the highest in the world, and domestic water demand will more than double by 2030,” said Dr Mohammed Abdel Hamyd Dawoud, EAD Advisor for Water Resources, Environment Quality Sector. “The new tariff structure that has been introduced is helping to reduce this rate.”

“EAD is working with TRANSCO [Abu Dhabi Transmission & Despatch Company] in the Liwa strategic water reserve project [a five-billion-gallon aquifer made up of injected desalinated water], which will be completed this month,” added Dr Dawoud, who will address a panel on energy-efficient desalination in the Middle East at IWS 2017.

Today, Abu Dhabi’s available fresh groundwater resources stand at barely 0.5%, and water access is becoming increasingly stretched for around a quarter of the world’s population.

According to a World Bank report, the average person in the MENA region has only 1,000 cubic metres of fresh water available per year, compared with the global average of 7,000 cubic metres.

Concerns over water scarcity and the sustainability challenges associated with conventional seawater desalination methods are motivating greater collaboration to find workable, commercially viable solutions.

Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company Masdar was a co-founder of the Global Clean Water Desalination Alliance (GCWDA) at COP21 in Paris along with the French government and the International Desalination Association. Today, the Alliance has 141 members from dozens of countries.

At the COP22 international climate conference in Morocco last month, the GCWDA signed the Marrakech Declaration of Global Alliances for Water and Climate (GAWC) stipulating cooperation in three strategic areas: stakeholder mobilisation to secure a place for water in climate summits, negotiations and financial mechanisms; the exchange of lessons learned and existing best practices; and the identification and support for new actions.

Marking the one-year anniversary of the Alliance, His Excellency Michel Miraillet, the Ambassador of France to the UAE, said: “The Alliance is a benchmark for effective international cooperation, offering a multilateral platform for both government and the private sector to work together on policy and technical innovation.”

The Alliance will host its next board meeting at ADSW 2017.