Just 35km from Abu Dhabi lies the world’s largest single-site solar plant. At the newly operational Al Dhafra Solar Plant (Al Dhafra PV), nearly four million solar panels spread across 20sqkm glitter in the sun, capturing enough energy to power more than 160,000 homes. It is a landmark achievement in the UAE’s plans to diversify its energy mix, and the latest milestone in a 15-year journey that has seen the country become a global leader in solar energy, and the second largest consumer for solar power per capita.
Al Dhafra PV also represents a significant contribution to the UAE’s ambitious target of net zero emissions by 2050. Driven by large-scale investment, the country is well on track. To date, the UAE has committed more than $50 billion to renewable energy projects, both in the UAE and overseas. And in July 2023, the UAE announced plans to triple the country’s supply of renewable energy and invest up to $54 billion over the next seven years to meet its growing energy demands.
These commitments are already paying off. By 2030, the UAE will triple its renewable energy capacity and increase its share of clean energy in the energy mix by 30 per cent with a total capacity of 19.8 gigawatts.
With a year-round sunny climate, solar power is the UAE’s trump card when it comes to energy. In addition to Al Dhafra Solar Plant, Noor Abu Dhabi Solar Plant generates 1.2GW of electricity and provides power to 90,000 homes while reducing emissions by one million metric tonnes per year, enough to remove 200,000 vehicles from the roads. Additionally, Shams in Al Dhafra, Abu Dhabi, is one of the largest concentrated solar power plants in the Middle East, and displaces 175,000 tonnes of CO2 each year, equivalent to planting 1.5 million trees.
In Dubai, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park has a planned capacity of 5,000MW by 2030, which is enough to power 800,000 homes by 2030 and displace more than 6.5 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually.
Though accelerated through recent investment, the UAE’s energy transition follows the country’s long track record of sustainability, which started with the UAE’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. He pioneered environmentalism long before it was widely spoken about, and led on urban planning initiatives that balanced economic development with the protection of the environment and its natural resources. More recently, the UAE has been leveraging technological advancements to establish itself as a hub for innovation, with a thriving ecosystem dedicated to uncovering answers to some of the world’s biggest challenges.
There may be solar power in abundance, but nuclear power offers the potential to move the dial even further on carbon emissions. At the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in Abu Dhabi, the Arab world’s first nuclear energy project, three of its four units have started commercial operations. Once the fourth reactor is operational, the plant will generate 5.6GW of clean energy, which is 25 per cent of the UAE’s electricity needs.
The UAE has also introduced large-scale wind power into its energy mix with the launch of the UAE Wind Program. Spread across three locations in Abu Dhabi and one in Fujairah, the wind farms have the capacity to power more than 23,000 homes a year.
Low-carbon hydrogen is now poised to play a key role in the UAE’s portfolio of renewables as well, as the country prepares to become a leading producer and supplier of low-carbon hydrogen, working towards producing 1.4 million metric tonnes annually by 2031 and 15 million metric tonnes annually by 2050.
In line with the UAE’s National Hydrogen Strategy, announced in July, the UAE will establish two hydrogen oases by 2031 and increase the number to five by 2050. There are also plans to establish a research and development (R&D) and innovation centre for hydrogen.
The UAE is already making significant headway through partnerships: Abu Dhabi’s Masdar Future Energy Company has signed an MoU with four Dutch companies to develop a green hydrogen supply chain between Abu Dhabi and Amsterdam. Meanwhile, Adnoc dispatched its first ever shipment of hydrogen-based ammonia to Germany in October 2022 following a landmark agreement between the UAE and Germany to increase energy security, decarbonisation and tackle climate change.
At the same time, the UAE is advancing infrastructure to facilitate the manufacturing of clean hydrogen. This includes Adnoc’s plans to build a world-scale blue ammonia plant at the TA’ZIZ industrial ecosystem and chemicals hub in Ruwais. Additionally, Fertiglobe, which is headquartered in Abu Dhabi as a joint venture between Adnoc and Netherlands-listed OCI, has signed an agreement with Masdar and France’s Engie to co-develop a cost-competitive green hydrogen facility in Al Ruwais with a potential capacity for up to 2MW and is scheduled for operation by 2025.
Domestically, the UAE is making impressive in-roads towards covering its own energy demands, but the country’s vision for a sustainable future extends beyond its borders. In 2022 alone, the UAE FDI outflows dedicated nearly $36 billion to renewable energy projects around the world. Since its launch in 2006, Masdar Future Energy Company in Abu Dhabi has invested or committed to invest in worldwide projects with a combined value of more than $30 billion.
Most recently, these include a partnership with Egypt to build a 10GW wind farm, which is set to become one of the largest of its kind. In addition to producing 47,790 GWh of clean energy annually, the wind farm will help create 100,000 jobs during construction and 3,200 once completed. It will also contribute to 42 per cent of Egypt's energy mix by 2035 and help save $5 billion in annual natural gas costs.
Masdar has also formed a new consortium to build a $1 billion solar power plant in Saudi after signing a Power Purchase Agreement with EDF Renewables, Nesma Company and Saudi Power Procurement Company. Al Henakiyah is a 1,100MW solar PV project, which is expected to power more than 190,000 homes per year and displace over 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 annually.
While the UAE’s ambitious clean energy projects are making significant impact in cutting emissions, the country’s expansion of its clean energy sources is also driving broader sustainable development; creating jobs, increasing access to affordable, reliable and secure clean energy, and paving the way towards a thriving sustainable economy.
(Suhail bin Mohammed Al Mazrouei is UAE Minister of Energy and Infrastructure)
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