Renewable Energy in the UAE Essay Sample

UAE has for various reasons resulted to actively seeking for alternatives to replace expensive and environmentally hazardous sources of energy. The country also seeks to diversify its energy sector as well as its economy through actively developing solar energy usage. It has developed solar-energy harnessing plants, which has made the consumption of this kind of energy grow significantly in frames of the total energy consumption. The country has been actively increasing the amount of solar power plants as well as improving the technology aimed at boosting efficiency and reducing costs in all runs. Thus, this sector has seen a lot of research work done on both the materials and technology used in power generation. When the systems for tapping and storing solar energy are competitive with conventional sources, the country will be in a better position to increase the scale of energy generation and effectively replace petroleum: it will introduce an era of clean non exhaustible energy with very low maintenance cost.

The term renewable energy has been commonly used to describe the alternative source of energy from what is considered mainstream; petroleum and coal (Alnaser & Alnaser, 2011). However, the term also means a wide array of energy sources that cannot be exhausted, which means that the sources are always renewed or replenished through the Earths’ natural cycles. An example of these energy sources includes solar energy, wind geothermal energy and biomass. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘green energy’ or ‘clean energy,’ which refers to energy sources that produce no emissions or pollutants in their generation and use (Rauland & Newman, 2015). Renewable energy is or can be used to replace petroleum fuels in several areas that may include the generation of electricity, heating, to drive various machines, as motor fuels, or to power localized of-the-grid homes in the rural areas. This paper will look into the various types of renewable energy in use in the UAE. This paper will discuss reasons behind UAE’s high demand for energy as well as renewable energy projects being undertaken. Moreover, specific renewable energy developments, for instance, the Masdar city besides the Shams 1 scheme will be discoursed including steps taken by the UAE government to successfully and competently utilize additional renewable energy in all runs.

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Renewable Energy Policy Network – for the 21st Century- (REN 21) concluded that the renewable sources of energy constituted approximately 19% of the total energy used globally in 2014. Biomass was the most used accounting for 9%, thermal energy at 4.2%, and hydroelectricity at 3.8%. In 2012 and 2013, renewables had been used to generate 22% of the electricity consumed globally. In the year 2013, global investment in the technologies aimed at exploitation of renewable sources of energy amounted to US 214 Billion (Young, (2014). The leading countries were China and the US while the technologies that were heavily invested into included wind, solar, hydro and biofuels.

The UAE

The United Arab Emirates or simply ‘the Emirates’ is a country in the Arabian Headland, sharing boarders with Saudi Arabia and Oman. It shares maritime boarders with Qatar and Iran around the Persian Gulf. Several aspects make this nation have an extraordinarily high demand for energy, which may include a high population composed majorly of foreign emigrants (over 80%). The locals make a small percentage of the total population and made up about 1.4 million in 2014. The country is a confederation of seven states (Emirates), each administered by a sovereign ruler: these rulers select one of them to rule the whole country, which has Arabic as the official language and Islam as the official religion. In spite of the small size, UAE has one of the biggest per capita quantities of oil reserves in the world. Its oil reserves rank 7th in the world: the country also has 17th largest natural gas reserve in the world.

After this state was founded in 1971, a large percentage of proceeds obtained from its petroleum and natural gas resources were channeled into the betterment of education, healthcare, as well as the development of highly advanced modern infrastructure (Alnaser & Alnaser, 2011). It has led to the rapid industrialization and development, which made this country’s economy the most diversified in the region. Over the same period of time, the most populous city in the country, Dubai emerged as an international commercial and transport hub. The high population density, high level of industrialization and economic diversification, as well as its use as a regional business hub makes UAE have a high rate of energy consumption. Additionally, the country experiences hot summers, when all the households and offices use electricity for air conditioning. This situation significantly increases electricity consumption to an extent of making the relevant government authorities consider corrective measures. Summer months’ electric consumption causes a major strain to the supply grid (Alnaser & Alnaser, 2011). The peak hours for air conditioning are usually between 12 noon and 6 PM in the evening. Additionally, the country lacks adequate fresh water resource for domestic and industrial consumption. As a result, a large amount of energy is consumed in the desalinization of sea water for domestic and industrial consumption. Due to large sea water desalinization plants, as well as widespread air-conditioning in the summer months, this country has the largest per capita carbon foot print. Carbon footprint refers to the total amount of carbon gasses that are produced during the production process. What may even encourage a larger carbon foot print is that petroleum-generated electricity is usually subsidized by the government before being sold to consumers at a price even less than per unit cost of its generation (International Renewable Energy Agency, 2013).

Various researchers and scholars have researched and compiled materials concerning the use of renewable sources of energy in the UAE. Some of these materials focus on areas such as the generation, the use or even future plans concerning the use of renewable energy. This section focuses on such materials.

The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) among other parallel authorities in the seven emirates have come up with means of ensuring that the peak hour demand for electricity does not lead to damages in the grid or unnecessary costs. Measures such as avoiding wastage of grid electricity as well as using most appliances in the off-peak hours have been seen to be helpful in the short run but are ineffective and unsustainable in the medium and long run (Kumetat, 2015). Additionally, the government and other agencies have recognized the great need to use this country’s oil reserve in a sustainable way and preserve it for the future generations. The government and other agencies are attempting to shift to green and renewable energy for environmental and health benefits in all respect. For this reason, various projects, action plans and long-term investment proposals are being done to tap into the green energy for electricity generation including other domestic and industrial uses for benefits discussed earlier. Owing to the geographical locality of the country, it receives a noteworthy quantity of solar radiation, which can be utilized to produce electricity, either through photovoltaic cells (PV) or through heating (CSP) (Kumetat, 2015).

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Renewable energy is being considered by the UAE in spite of oil reserves it possesses. According to the Masdar Institute (UAE), IRENA and the Directorate of energy and climatic change in the Ministry of foreign affairs, raising renewable energy to 10% the totals consumption could save the country a total of $1.9billion by the year 2030. It was also established that avoiding the consumption of fossil fuel would significantly lower the overall cost of energy. Factoring in health benefits that would accrue from the use of renewable energy and reduction in the environmental pollution, renewable energy could help the country save between $1 and 3.7 billion by 2030.

Since the year 2010, the cost of natural gas has been increasing, while that of PV solar panels for converting solar energy into electricity has been declining universally as a result of the improvement in know-how used in manufacturing those (Young, 2014). Additionally, the theoretical and the practical efficiencies of photovoltaic cells and panels have been on the rise. All these factors have made solar energy competitive relative to oil. Despite UAE’s large natural gas reserves, it is important to note that the country is a net importer of the same as the internal output is not able to meet the internal demand. The government through various agencies is also evaluating other renewable sources of energy such as wind while encouraging the adoption of the conversion of waste to energy. In 2014, the cost of natural gas rose to $ 8/mBtu (million British thermal units) creating a need for faster shift to renewable energy (Kumetat, 2015).

According to Kumetat (2015), the average cost of natural gas may rise twofold by 2020. Considering that the UAE imports natural gas, it has taken bold steps to decrease its dependence on the same. Furthermore, UAE desires to extensively use green energy in order to expand its economy, free additional petroleum for exports as well as to reduce the rates of the environmental degradation. In order to achieve a sustainable consumption of renewable energy sources, various options in terms of the forms of renewable energy sources have been considered. The UAE has a high yearly radiation making the exploitation of solar energy reasonable and economical. Large, open fields can be mounted with photovoltaic solar panels to transform solar energy into electric energy. Additionally, sunshine can be used for direct heating. With this knowledge, the country has been rigorously promoting the generation of the solar power since early 2008. Abu Dhabi and Dubai were among the first to embrace the use of solar power, each set its own targets for future production and consumption. Abu Dhabi has set its target to have 7% of its energy consumption as solar generated by 2020 (Kumetat, 2015). Dubai, on the other hand, is aiming at 5% clean energy as a percentage of the total consumption by 2030. As a result of these visions, Abu Dhabi has launched many massive projects to harness solar power. Both photovoltaic (PV) as well as Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) are in various stages of installation. On the other hand, Dubai has in the recent past focused majorly on PV system for generating electricity.

Types of Renewable Energy

The growth in the use of renewable sources of energy was rather slow before 2008, in which the entire country generated only 1% of its entire energy production from solar energy. By 2014, it was estimated that the UAE held half the facilities for harnessing solar energy in the GCC combined with the Levant (Caprotti, 2015).

The Masdar City

This is a city project in the emirate of Abu Dhabi in the UAE. The city is under construction and is aimed at being a global model for a carbon neutral city. When completed, the city is planned to save 45% of water and 59% compared to the amount a similar sized conventional city would consume (Caprotti, 2015). Despite this city being energy and resource efficient, it will be powered majorly by renewable sources of energy. Additionally, the term carbon neutral means that it will not emit more carbon than a unit area of undeveloped space. The major sources of energy for this city will be solar power, and large areas of open fields will be installed with photovoltaic solar panels. In addition, the design of each individual structure will be such that it will need the minimum possible artificial lighting and air conditioning. Furthermore, model structures that can produce more energy than it can consume will also be integrated. The city will house a maximum of 50,000 people in addition to 15,000 businesses (Caprotti, 2015).

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The core of this city is being built by the Masdar Company, which is a part of the larger Mubadala Development Company. The Abu Dhabi government has been the chief stockholder in the provision of the initial capital required. The designer of this city will be the Britishbased fosters and partners architectural firm. The city is being developed approximately 17 km in the south east of Abu Dhabi, standing adjacent to the Abu Dhabi International Airport. The city project was commissioned in 2006 with an estimated implementation period of about 8 years. The total cost was estimated at between $ 18 and 22 billion: the initial part was slated for completion before 2009. It was, however, delayed due to the effects of global financial crisis; some of the structures in phase one were not habitable by 2009 (Caprotti, 2015). With time, the total cost of the development of this city has declined by 10-15% while several variations have been made in instances where theoretical design could not be applied successfully. IRENA will have its headquarters in this city so as to demonstrate to the world the importance of green tech in the construction of modern cities (International Renewable Energy Agency, 2013). Masdar city will be a national as well a worldwide epicenter for clean tech corporations. The Masdar institute of technology was the first institution to book space in this city and become its first tenant. This institution of higher learning and research has been operating in the proposed city in various areas since late 2010, when it occupied its campus.

The most striking feature of this city is that it has been developed to exclusively use renewable energy resources. Additionally, it is fitted with a system to enable the maximum possible conservation of energy. PV solar panels are used to generate the electric energy required to run this city. A total of 87,777 PV solar panels that occupy an area of approximately 22- hectare are used. Additional PV panels are installed on roofs of some structures. Another essential component of these structures is that they lack power switches and water taps. It has been done to eliminate instances where lights and water taps and appliances may be left on unnecessarily. Lighting and water points are controlled by a series of motion sensors, which has reduced water consumption to 55% and electricity to 51%. The initial plan provided for the installation of all the solar panels on the rooftops of various building. During the development phase, it was discovered that it would be much more efficient to build solar fields on the open fields in the desert. It would make it easy to brush the dirt off their surface than having cleaners climb on every roof top to clean them. Additionally, the flat open field ensures uniformity in the power generation in addition to the fact that desert has more insolation per unit area than the location of the city.

In addition to PV panels, CSP plants are being tested to find out if they can effectively be used to tap the heat energy from sunshine. If this is successfully established, the amount of electricity used for heating could be saved or reduced, which would ultimately reduce the costs. In addition to the use of renewable energy sources, comprehensive water management practices are also incorporated to reduce wastage. Mechanisms are also put in place to ensure that about 80% of the water used is recycled. It includes reusing waste water whenever applicable and utilizing grey water to irrigate crops.

Apart from the projects initiated and implemented by Masdar, there are several other projects across the UAE that will exclusively use solar power. For instance, in June 2015, the roads and transport authority in the UAE announced the planned commencement of the construction of 400 bus stops in Dubai. A large percentage of the new ones constructed in areas that have been off the grid will have air conditioning systems that will be powered using solar energy. This project does not only make Dubai the first city in the world to have air conditioned bus stops but also the first one to have solar operated ones. This announcement came a year after trial projects had been done in 2014 in Al Jafliya. Even if the test projects did not provide adequate power for air conditioning systems, it provided crucial information of the possibilities of successfully applying the same in the future. The tests indicated that solar power was adequate for powering lights and advertisement, but the materials used as well as structures’ shapes could not be effectively air conditioned by a solar powered system. However, more trials indicated that with the use of crescent-shaped shelters made of improved materials and heat, dust and humidity resistant paints, a number of them would support a solar powered air conditioner.

The Shams 1

Shams 1 is a project that was undertaken to harness the heat energy from the sun and use it for the purpose of generating electricity. The plant is located in Abu Dhabi and is made up of a CSP plant. The plant was completed and became operational by 17th march, 2013. Shams 1 is one of the largest CSP plants in the world. The system is made up of parabolic mirrors set on both sides of a dark pipe made of a special heat absorptive material containing oil. The parabolic glasses are used to concentrate heat from sunshine onto the pipes carrying oil hence heating it. The heated oil in turn heats water which evaporates into steam which turns turbines. The mechanical energy in this turbine is converted into electricity. Since the heat obtained from the oil is not sufficient to rapidly evaporate water, a special heater that burns natural gas ‘a natural gas booster’ is used to compensate the heat difference by heating the water to the temperatures close to 400 degrees Celsius. In the Shams 1 power plant, the parabolic mirror holders are set on an intelligent system that is able to track the movement of the sun.

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Close to 80% of the heat used comes from the CSP units and is converted into approximately 55% of the total electricity generated. On the other hand, 20% of the heat is obtained from combustion of natural gas and accounts for approximately 45% of the total electric energy produced. From these statistics, it is crucial to note how the heat from the sunshine is greatly used to increase the systems efficiency in the use of natural gas in the production of electricity, making it possible to generate 45% of electricity from only 20% of heat from natural gas. It saves the cost of the 80% of the heat obtained from the CSP unit and is very crucial for reducing emissions (Rauland & Newman, 2015).

The Shams 1 management does not disclose the cost of generating one unit of power for some reason, which may include the fact that it is in power purchase contract with the management of the power grid. According to CSP professionals, an average price of a CSP system is presently between 20 and 25 cents / kWh. During the design and the developmental phase of this project, the total annual output had been estimated at slightly less than 200GWh. However, the first year of operation saw the plant produce slightly in access of 210GWh. Experts report that this is equivalent to the amount consumed by roughly 20000 homes in the UAE or ½% of the total electricity demand in the country.

The size of this CSP unit makes it cover an area of approximately 2.5 square kilometers while the total length of the parabolic trough is approximately 120 km. The large surface area seen above is very crucial for absorbing the maximum amount of heat from the sun shine. For this reason, the whole project is an environmental conservation success as it greatly reduces carbon emission. In one year, Shams 1 is capable of reducing carbon dioxide emission by about 175,000 tones, an amount that is produced by 1500cars over the same period of time. It is also the amount that can be absorbed by 1.5 million trees in one year.

Shamss1 had a nominal maximum capacity of 100MW. However, the plant was seen to produce up to 125MW at one instance.

Fluctuation in the amount of heat harnessed from the sunshine is observed in several instances. For example, at night, during cloudy days or in the winter, the amount of the heating obtained from the use of natural gas is increased to compensate for the deficit. The management of Shamss 1 plant only allows the use of natural gas up to 600, 000 btu (British thermal units). The operating staff is usually mandated to determine the amount of natural gas to add in order to compensate for the shortfall in the heat collected by the CSP unit.

It has been observed that PV cells are much cheaper than CSP in terms of having a shorter process of generating electricity and also having fewer components. However, CSP has several advantages over the PV systems. CSP units store heat making the generation of electricity stable, even despite sharp fluctuations that may occur in the amount of sunshine received. Additionally, the system is more durable as the storage tanks for hot water can last close to 30 years, which is very long compared to short battery lives for PV systems. As discussed earlier, CSP are able to cater for sharp fluctuations in the sunshine received, making electric generation more regular as compared to PV units. CSP is also very easy to combine with conventional heat power plants and has been used in many instances to upgrade those (Rauland & Newman, 2015).

Shams 1 project has been very vital and will immensely contribute towards assisting Abu Dhabi to achieve 7% of renewable energy by 2020 (Rauland & Newman, 2015). Additionally, it will help the whole country to reduce carbon emissions, diversify its energy sources, as well as the entire economy. It is important to note that Shams1 is run partly by Masdar. Therefore, its existence offers a great learning experience to Masdar, which is continuously looking for ways to improve the project. It offers a great opportunity for the researchers at Masdar to experiment with an aim of improving both the technology as well as the materials used in this plant to boost efficiency, durability and sustainability.

How the UAE is Approaching Renewable Energy for the Future

The UAE is aiming at reducing its dependence on petroleum and natural gas for generation of electricity. The primary aim of this is to free more petroleum for export, save money used to import natural gas and avoid the degradation of the nation’s natural environment. The country had an integrated long-term plan to ensure that it derived 24 % of its power from clean sources by 2030. Later on, the government plans to accelerate this plan to achieve this by 2021. Apart from the large-scale projects carried out by Masdar, including the carbon neutral city and the mega CSP Shams 1, the country has more plans to increase generation of electricity from solar energy (Sayigh, 2013). In April 2015, the government announced its plans to add an additional 100MV of electricity by installing additional PV solar panels. The FEWA (federal Electricity and Water Authority) has set up plans to initiate large-scale projects in the expansive north of the UAE. The government is also on course to initiate several projects to generate 24% of its entire energy demand by 2021 as seen earlier. Some of the projects underway include the development of nuclear power plants. Most of these projects are meant to benefit the five remaining emirates that have not been involved in the massive projects of Masdar city and Shams 1. Emirates such as Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah, Umma AL Quiwain as well as Fujairah are the ones serviced by FEWA while Dubai and Abu Dhabi have their own parallel services (Kumetat, 2015).

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FEWA is set to collaborate with private corporations in the inception, design and development of these projects. Tenders as well as areas of co-operations are set to be awarded via a competitive tendering process. Such an approach is set to be adopted as it is very effective in ensuring that the cost is kept the lowest while maintaining the highest attainable standards. One of such tenders awarded recently include a 200MW project awarded to ACWA Corporation from Saudi Arabia to construct a PV solar field in Dubai. It achieved the lowest flat-rate tariff (5.84¢/kWh) in the history (Kumetat, 2015). The project is in design phase, and the company is already securing funds through low interest bank loans in readiness for the commissioning in 2017. Upon completion, it will be the largest of its kind in MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. Masdar Company is already in a design stage for the first phases of the first geothermal project ever to be implemented in the UAE (Kumetat, 2015).

In addition to FEWA’s projects, Masdar and Shams 1, other plans are also underway aimed at increasing renewable power generation all across the UAE. On 15th April, 2015, Dubai announced to roll out a mega project at a cost of $3 billion aimed at boosting power generation capability to 3GW. (Kumetat, 2015)

DEWA’s managing director Sayeed Tayer announced that the above plans were aimed at boosting the generation capacity of the proposed largest solar park in Dubai: Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The initial capacity of this park was planned to be 1GW upon completion in 2019 as the installation begun back in 2013. The initial authorizing of the first block of PV solar panels with a total capacity of 13 MW was also done in 2013 (Sayigh, 2013). However, DEWA has planned to upgrade the plant during and after the installation such that its capacity will triple (to 3 GW) by 2030. It shows how seriously the country is taking the harnessing and the use of renewable energy from solar power.

Apart from the massive expansion of the physical capacity through the installation of larger and more powerful PV panels, the UAE is taking another very futuristic approach to the generation and storage of renewable energy. The government through its agencies is carrying out and sponsoring research to come up with futuristic ways of generating and storing energy. The Masdar institute, among others is continuously carrying out research on how to improve the generation capacities of various PV solar parks, Shams 1 CSP plant among others. Its research also includes the development of materials that are more absorptive of the solar energy. One of the ground-breaking research currently being done by this institute in conjunction with Norwegian company aims at making the storage of electricity produced by CSP solar parks more efficient. The Nest (New Energy Storage Technology) could reduce the cost of solar power by 70% in five years (Rauland & Newman, 2015). The research aims at storing heat energy using special concrete material to store heat collected through CSP instead of the conventional method that is usually expensive.
Another issue that has been seen to reduce the efficiency of sunshine absorption either in PV solar or CSP units is accumulation of dust. Dust or sand covers the surface needed for heat absorption: it increases costs as regular dusting and washing is required. Masdar is working to engineer transparent materials that have pore-sizes smaller than sand particle to protect the units’ surfaces. Additionally, parallel research and trials are currently underway aimed at coming up with a material that repels sand or dust particles. Materials are also being developed that have the ability to inhibit bacterial and other microbial activities that occur when dust and sand particles settle on PV or CSP units. All these are aimed at increasing the efficiency of these systems in order to generate more power, reduce cost and make the systems more sustainable (Rauland & Newman, 2015).

Steps described above show a country that is earnestly trying to diversify its energy mix. The diversification is aimed at attaining sustainability in all runs. With all these systems in place, the UAE seems to be ready to embrace renewable energy in the future. Research done and sponsored by various organizations may usher in an era in which renewable energy will be adequately competitive to effectively replace non renewable energy sources. Additionally, the Masdar carbon neutral city, being the first in the world, will serve as a model and an indicator of a time in the future where many other cities will be carbon neutral, therefore reducing global warming and reversing the effects of climatic change. When the systems for tapping and storing solar energy are competitive enough relative to conventional sources, the country will be in a better position to simply increase the scale of generation and effectively replace petroleum: it will usher in an era of clean non exhaustible energy with very low maintenance cost.