15 JAN 2020

Rethinking energy mix is the need of the hour

By His Excellency Engineer Awaidha Murshed Al Marar, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Energy 

With an investment of US$163 billion in energy mix the UAE aims to achieve 50 per cent clean energy capacity by 2050

As the world grapples with climate change and growing environmental concerns, we see an unprecedented need to shift from conventional energy sources to renewables. The time is ripe to make the energy transition and as a nation committed to the Paris Agreement, we are moving towards a sustainable future by optimising conventional energy sources and investing in low carbon energy sources such as solar and nuclear power. 

Clean energy is the cornerstone of sustainability and drives the UAE’s narrative to achieve a carbon-free future. The UAE has set out national targets to achieve 50 per cent clean energy capacity and to decarbonise the power and water sectors by 70 per cent in the next three decades as part of the UAE Energy Strategy 2050. For total power generation capacity by 2050, the strategy outlines targets of 44 per cent renewable energy; 38 per cent natural gas; 12 per cent ‘clean coal’; and 6 per cent nuclear energy, thereby improving energy efficiency by 40 per cent in all sectors. 

While driving the development of a cleaner energy mix, we need to ensure a reliable and secure supply of power to meet the ever-growing energy needs and also create an energy value chain that is economically viable. We believe that leveraging and optimising our natural resources such as solar irradiation, will go a long way in supporting non-petroleum dependent industries.

To this end, Abu Dhabi’s latest solar PV plant made a significant power contribution in 2019 to capacity mix bringing the Emirate closer to its 7% renewables target for 2020. Not only did the solar plant position the emirate on the global map as a leader in photovoltaic energy in terms of renewable capacity, but it also generated power at a record low cost of just 2.94 US cents per kilowatt/hour.

Thereby, furthering our goal of creating economically viable solutions. 
Another milestone in the clean energy segment is the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in Abu Dhabi, which is nearing completion. Once operational it will offer nuclear power for electricity generation, in line with the UAE’s strategy for peaceful uses of nuclear power.  

Yet another revolutionary step in moving away from fossil fuels will be a rollout of electric vehicles (EVs). The move will also involve creating a reliable infrastructure around the same, complete with EV charging stations and regulatory aligned business model. We are currently finalizing a specific policy around EV’s to ensure a large-scale deployment of electric cars takes place without any glitches. 

More recently, hydrogen is gaining traction globally as a clean alternative and substitute for natural gas. We see huge potential in ‘green’ hydrogen from surplus solar PV generation, and ‘blue’ hydrogen from natural gas as a sustainable fuel of the future.

While formulating policies and goals, we are mindful of the importance of mobilising community in achieving sustainability and promoting social well-being by creating a cleaner, healthier living environment. Raising awareness about judicious use of energy is also a key element in furthering the cause of reducing carbon footprint. Focusing on small, incremental shifts towards demand side efficiency and developing skills of young professionals who will lead the charge of a greener energy system in the future are top on our agenda. 

Underlying these policies and goals is our drive towards a digital economy. Across every touch point in Abu Dhabi’s energy value chain there is deep focus on integrated digitisation, which serves in boosting sector efficiencies and reducing environmental footprint. Digitisation serves as a key to addressing sectoral challenges as well as creating new benchmarks for a sustainable energy future. I see digitisation as a vehicle to achieve the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 targets as well as playing pivotal role in establishing a more diversified economy. 

Thanks to a visionary strategy, the UAE is well on its way to becoming a significant global partner in mitigating climate change and harnessing social, economical and health benefits of a more  sustainable environment.

25 FEB 2020

Making sense of it all

The promise of smart cities of the future is enormous – congestion, pollution, overcrowded transit, wasted energy, delayed emergency response all problems of the past. With smart cities, and I shall use this term as moniker that sums up the digitisation of analog processes, big data, the internet of things, automation, machine learning, neural nets, artificial intelligence – almost anything seems to be within the realm of possibility. 

Smart city decision makers will have access to oodles of data to base their decisions on, and better yet decision making will be made even easier as all options will be presented having been thoroughly analysed by sophisticated systems.

But do we know if these sophisticated systems are really giving us the best option?  I am astonished by the inability to often understand how AI come up with their recommendations or actions at times. When AlphaGo beat Lee Sodol, the machine developed a strategy that baffled the world of Go, a game that humans played for over two millennia. We can analyse and try to understand but how it arrived at it its conclusion is not clear. Recently, in one of our on-going research projects, I asked the creators of the AI how it learned to read a satellite images and create mapping at scale? The response was “we don’t really know happens inside”. What we do know is that the AI is able to take our training material and create data at a scale, accuracy and speed that is unrivalled by humans.

AIs are very good at taking rules and playing by them. Clearly defined problems, that can be packed into an algorithm, will yield results at greater speed and higher levels of accuracy than can be produced by humans. Most importantly this releases us from trivial and mundane tasks to turn our hands to something potentially more interesting and meaningful.

Herein however lies the machine’s (current) biggest weakness when we think of the promise of smart cities. Cities are inherently messy, with the rules changing all the time. Messy as they all differ from one another in climate, politics, economics, social norms, size and so on. Messy as they are constantly changing and evolving, over the span of a day, a week, a decade, often in patterns we can only hope to recognise in hindsight. And most importantly, messy as they are made up hundreds of thousands, if not millions of humans, and all with their own individual quirks, personalities, moods and irrationalities. 

When it now comes to making decisions over what is the best trajectory any one city should follow, we must recognise that we cannot possibly feed a machine all possible eventualities that will allow it to make the right choice.

For example, we often discuss the value of green spaces and vegetation in the cities of the Gulf. On one hand there is no way that it can be sustainable to grow grass and trees in the desert based on the amount of resources required to ensure their survival in the harsh climatic conditions. On the other hand, how do we measure the joys of people using these spaces with their friends and families? Whilst we know of the benefits of biophilia, how do we place a value on it? I use a rule of thumb, asking myself if I would let one of my children run around without supervision on a piece of grass, then the effort expanded is ok. Consequently, on a landscaped highway junction, it is not.

We humans have 6,000 years of experience in making cities, and we must build on this. Modern city making professions have their origins in mass urbanisation that the north-Atlantic world experienced during the first industrial revolution and the resulting squalor of cities in the 19th century. Modern architecture, public health professions etc. all stem from a desire to improve the cities for its residents. The last 100 or so years we have sought salvation in designing cities for the car now turning to another technology to help us resolve the problems this caused.

In the cities of the 21st century however, what are the issues that we truly must resolve? Sustainability, inclusivity and well-being are at the top of my list. We humans must remain aware of the pitfalls that technological innovation can harbour amongst all its benefits. For all its benefits, social media has also contributed to isolation and reduced the need for human interaction. Other smart city technology, whilst deployed with the best intention, might have unintended negative consequences. 

I believe that for smart cities of the future to meet their promise, a collaboration between all the technological possibilities and a human effort in making sense of it all, will be fundamental.

By Hrvoje Cindric / Associate, Planning, ARUP

25 FEB 2020

NEED TO KNOW - WORLD PULSES DAY

Held on February 10, World Pulses Day aims to raise awareness of the nutritional and environmental benefits of pulses in sustainable food production. The UN says pulses are an important crop for farmers because they can both sell and consume them, helping to maintain household food security and create economic stability

 World day Pulses Info-graphic

15 JAN 2020

The Decade of Energy Transformation Lies Ahead of us

As we enter a new decade, IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera suggests the 2020s will be the golden age of renewables 

The 2010s will be remembered as the decade when renewable energy went from the marginal to the mainstream. Cost reductions and the growing climate crisis have propelled renewable energy sources into the social and political discourse in almost every country on earth. Of all the major power generation technologies – traditional or renewable – solar accounts for the largest share of additional capacity over the last 10 years. 

Encouraging as this progress might be, the hard work is ahead of us. Our actions in the 2020s will define the long-term future of our economies, our people and our planet. Any chance we have of mitigating the climate crisis and achieiving sustainable development by mid-century, lies in the policies, investments and emission reductions made this decade. And this critical period of action begins in Abu Dhabi at the 10th IRENA Assembly during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. 

The 2020s are set to be the decade that redefines our socioeconomic system. If successful, we will have unleashed 10 breathtaking years of energy system transformation putting us well on the way to generating nearly nine tenths of electricity from renewables by 2050. The hard work starts now to ensure that by the end of this decade renewables contribute half of all power generation globally. 

It could also be the decade in which demand for both coal and oil peaks, where we see 157 million electric vehicles on our roads, and when the last person on earth without reliable and affordable access to electricity is enjoying the benefits of its productive uses. It’s possible. To ensure this happens, however, we must urgently address two key things. Investment and policy. 

Planned energy investments are currently misdirected and should pivot to low-carbon technologies. By our calculations more than USD 18 trillion of energy investments by 2050 are fossil fuel related, including exploration and production of gas, oil and coal. At best, these investments risk stranding trillions of dollars of assets in uneconomical fuels in just a few years. At worst, they threaten to blow the world’s carbon budget this decade, and with it any hope of a climate safe future. 

To hold rising temperatures in the 10 years ahead of us, annual investments in renewable energy must rise from today’s USD 330 billion to nearly USD 750 billion per year. Redirecting capital into more socially and economically beneficial low-carbon technologies, is imperative and must start now. It is also the most economic climate action pathway. Inaction will cost up to 7 times more than the capital needed to transform the energy system.

The Gulf Corporation Council (GCC) countries are taking up the renewable energy race and have everything to gain from moving quickly into a leadership position on future energy. Conservative estimates suggest that by 2030 the region could save more than 350 million barrels of oil equivalent and create close to a quarter of a million new jobs by executing current plans. Solar and wind resources are rich and attractive, and policies have made it cheaper to generate power from renewables than from any other source. Moving from oil, gas pipelines and coal shipments to solar panels and wind turbines strengthens energy security, supports energy independence and builds prosperity for all, not just for the few. 

There is no question we are moving in the right direction. In the last decade renewable power generation capacity has doubled and its growth has consistently outpaced fossil fuels since 2012. A third of global power generation capacity today is renewable. This is the result of investments of around USD 3 trillion over the last 10 years including large hydro. In the decade of transformation ahead of us however, the next three trillion dollars of renewable investments should take around four years. 

Policies must align with the opportunity and reflect the necessity. Under current policies, the peak production of fossil fuels happens somewhere between 2030 and 2035, dramatically out of step with the Paris Agreement which requires a peak in 2020 and a steady, continuous decline from that point. Furthermore, renewable energy targets in nationally determined contributions (NDCs) lag market progress. By 2030 NDCs should target double the amount of renewable capacity, they do today.  

It is no longer a question of direction, but of speed. With policy support, smart investment decision-making and clear recognition of the benefits associated with a renewables-based energy system, the speed of transformation ahead of us could rival the that of any in the post-industrial age. Anything short of this, risks everything.