AWAIDHA AL MARAR

Abu Dhabi 2021 | ENERGY | VIP INTERVIEW

Abu Dhabi's resilience in energy is not just because of its impressive infrastructure, but the willingness of its people to work together and transform in difficult times.

What role has the Department of Energy played in the Emirate's resilience in the current situation?

As the regulator of the energy sector in Abu Dhabi, our top priority is to ensure the power grid and water as well as wastewater networks are resilient and working at all times. Since the onset of COVID-19, we have been taking all the necessary proactive steps in line with directives from the relevant local authorities. We continue to closely monitor the situation and have worked with all energy sector companies and stakeholders, ensuring uninterrupted supply of water and electricity services and maintained additional capacity above the demand required by all sectors to mitigate swings in peak demand and energy consumption. We issued Covid-19 guidelines to support energy operators and service providers are able to maintain business continuity and adequate manpower safely. We have also invested tremendously on our infrastructure to serve Abu Dhabi and the Northern Emirates. When it comes to capacity, we are already geared up. In the middle of the pandemic, our energy program was com-pleted and was operating safely. We celebrated supplying the first nuclear energy to the grid. As to resilience: it has never been built overnight. Resilience was built a long time ago as infrastructure, and the most important piece is the policy in place and the human capital that is willing to transform and translate those written policies into regulation as well as operations on the ground. When we put all these together, this results in resilience. There is resilience because there is a true bond between the team, citizens, and employees working in the public and private sectors.

How much more important and immediate was the need for the energy transition in the face of the pandemic?

We are an oilrich country, but we have used the oil revenues to invest in advancing our energy transition. We have been taking strategic decisions to diversify our energy sources and increase the share of renewable and nuclear power because this is key to balancing economic, security and environmental needs. Our policy for the UAE's energy security is designed under a multidimensional strategy to reduce external dependencies and meet growing electricity consumption needs by providing diversification and alternative sources of energy. For example, our 2GW Al Dhafra Solar PV project recorded one of the most cost-competitive tariffs at AED0.0497/kWh on a levelized cost basis. This is nearly 44% lower that the worldrecord tariff achieved for the 1.2GW Noor Abu Dhabi Solar PV project in 2017. When the Al Dhafra Solar PV IPP project is completed by 2022, it will bring the total solar power generation capacity in the Emirate to 3.2GW, and if we add in the baseload nuclear energy expected upon full operation of the four nuclear reactors at the Barakah plant, we are talking about 8.8GW of installed clean and renewable energy capacity within three to four years—more than 31% of the total energy mix in Abu Dhabi. We are pressing ahead in addressing energy security and all other dimensions of the energy transition by deploying diverse sustainable energy generation sources, investing in new energy technologies, and advancing our energy infrastructures, thus improving our system resilience toward an effective energy transition.

What are the immediate priorities for the Department of Energy, and what are the major lessons learned from this period?

Energy has always been a critical component of Abu Dhabi's socioeconomic development and the quality of life, health, and wellbeing of its people. The government, which owns 6% of the world's proven oil reserves, has also taken proactive measures, including the announcement of a stimulus package to help counter any fallout from COVID19. Initiatives include AED5 billion to subsidize water and electricity for citizens and commercial and industrial activities. However, as we rebuild from the crisis, we need to ensure that lower revenues from oil and gas exports do not disrupt our economic diversification plans or our targets to diversify our energy mix. Investing in sustainable projects is imperative to a healthy recovery. We will continue to leverage our solar resources and boost exploration of enabling technologies such as renewable hydrogen and continue to adapt our regulatory and policymaking frameworks to support the integration of clean and renewable energy into our system. The most important strategic option for us is to increase energy efficiency and behavioral change. The individual and community consumption of energy is one of the most important factors that affect energy use, energy security, and a sustainable future.

How is government tackling the energy trilemma, and what disconnects are there when it comes to the environment and economy?

The pandemic has magnified the role of energy in today's life—it showed that energy is fundamental to national security and social and economic growth, and there is a nexus approach to water, energy, food, and environmental securities. Energy transition is a journey, and you need to have a reason. Different countries have different agendas for making the transition. Meeting the Energy Trilemma requires striking a balance between the three goals of energy security, social impact, and environmental sustainability, and that will always depend on each country's conditions and socioeconomic interests. I categorize our investment in other sources of energy under knowledge of economy. If you have knowledge of these, you are able to decide how much you can hit them, when, and by how much. The energy transition is all about what you truly want to achieve, and that will serve your country much better. We have been able to maintain our good performance on energy security and equity and witnessed significant environmental benefits, which present us with new opportunities to further strengthen our system resilience and review our policies in light of new environmental possibilities. In particular, energy security is integral to social, economic, food, and environmental securities. We must work in harmony if we are ever to solve the energy trilemma and attain sustainable development.

How do you assess the opportunity for Abu Dhabi to enhance its role on the regional and global stage as a leader in renewable energy?

Within the GCC region, Abu Dhabi has been the most remarkably successful entity in seizing the opportunities brought about the global shift to renewable energy to address the rise of climate change. The Emirate, in spite of its vast hydrocarbon reserves, has embarked on an ambitious journey to diversify its domestic sources of energy. In 2008, we established Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, and maximized investment in renewable projects locally and abroad as well as R&D, thus cementing the Emirate's position as a leader in clean energy technology. Since then, we have been investing heavily in big renewables infrastructure. Over the past few years our solar PV projects—like Noor Abu Dhabi and the 2GW Al Dhafra project—have been making headlines due to their large capacity and operational and cost efficiencies. Today, the UAE accounts for over 70% of all installed renewable energy capacity in the region. In addition, it ranks top three worldwide in the production of concentrated solar power. The large renewable energy projects not only help to meet our evergrowing local consumption needs but also attract foreign investment and international knowhow to Abu Dhabi, which is essential to developing our local knowledge economy.