What is ACCIONA’s mandate in relation to a renewable future?
ACCIONA is an infrastructure and renewable energy solutions provider with a strong focus on sustainable projects that allow communities to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. We introduced our first Sustainability Master Plan (SMP) in 2010, and became a carbon neutral company in 2016. Our goals for 2025 are to further reduce our carbon emissions by 60% (from a 2017 base) and to cut our water use by 50%, especially in places with severe water stress. With the SMP 2025, ACCIONA aspires to go beyond carbon neutrality and achieve a positive impact on our environment, with initiatives that regenerate natural habitats, reduce waste, and certify the use of 100% renewable energy in all our business projects. Our commitment to a renewable future means we are investing more in renewable energy projects, in building desalination and water treatment plants, and in sustainable urban infrastructure projects that improve the wellbeing of city dwellers, like metros and other rapid transit systems. Our drive comes from being a family-led company. José Manuel Entrecanales, Acciona’s Chairman and CEO, has pioneered initiatives such as the ACCIONA 100% EcoPowered rally car to complete against gas-powered rally cars in the Dakar Rally or the ACCIONA Homeward Bound program, a global initiative that aims to promote the leadership of women in climate science and was recently presented in Dubai.
What projects are you involved in now?
We recently concluded the construction of the Dubai’s metro expansion project, called the Dubai Metro Route 2020. This project involved the design and construction of a 15 km long metro line, of which 11.8 km are elevated (viaduct) and 3.2 km are underground at depths ranging from 12 m to 36 m. The infrastructure quality is extremely high. We have started planning and analyzing stations to better conserve energy and design the project efficiently using computer-generated design. We received the LEED Gold sustainability certification for Dubai’s metro project. Talking about our Water business, ACCIONA has built a number of reverse osmosis plants in the UAE, which use less energy than thermal desalination. Examples include the IWPP in Fujairah 1 as well as the desalination plant in Jebel Ali, where we use AI to monitor the plant. Fujairah has a specific energy consumption of 3.3kg/cbm per hour compared to 3.9-4 in other places. We produce maximum energy with minimum consumption. We also built the Phase III of the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar park in Dubai, the second largest in the world, totaling 800MW. The solar park has the latest bifacial modules technology whereby all the PV panels track the sun to maximize production.
How important is the UAE for ACCIONA’s global operations?
The UAE is the base for ACCIONA’s operations in the Middle East. We are here because ACCIONA shares the commitment of the UAE to economic diversification and to a technology-driven low carbon future. Last year, the UAE became the first Gulf state to announce a Net Zero carbon commitment by 2050, and at ACCIONA, we are fully committed to helping the nation achieve this goal. The UAE has announced that it will invest USD165 billion in renewable energy by 2050, and ACCIONA has contributed to this goal by building two of the largest solar projects in the world for the UAE: 1GW in Abu Dhabi and 900MW in Dubai, The UAE also has the largest reverse osmosis desalination plant in the world at Taweelah, which produces 1 million cbm per day. ACCIONA is a global leader in large scale desalination projects, and was recently nominated by the prestigious specialist International Water magazine as the number one company in the sector for the last 10 years. ACCIONA is also very interested in the UAE’s recently announced green hydrogen program,as we are building pilot green hydrogen projects in Spain and in Latin America. The UAE is working to hold COP28 in 2023 here. The world’s future energy summit and the world’s utility holders are in Abu Dhabi, which is why the UAE remains a key strategic country for us.
How do you plan on using transformative technology in achieving your sustainability goals?
ACCIONA invests up to 5% of its revenues in R&D. We have large innovation and development programs in Spain and work hard to develop more technologies. We use satellites to optimize our plants, and we have brought to Dubai the largest 3D printer machine using Powder Bed technology (DShape ®). There are two technologies for concrete 3D printing, and ACCIONA has both. In Ajman, we built the first concrete 3D-printed bus stop. We can build industrial commissions on time thanks to our people and digital print technologies. 5G is coming, and life is becoming smarter.
What is the ideal scenario to reach carbon net-zero for the UAE?
The UAE has a masterplan, the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050, that aims to reduce Dubai’s carbon footprint to net zero by 2050. It has the vision and will to do it and has put implementation regulations and laws in place. In addition, this part of the world is turning more to PPP and BOO/BOT schemes rather than EPC. Pure EPC was when a client pays a contractor to build a plant. This model has changed. Under PPP or BOO/BOT model, the contractor invests its own equity in the project and has a stake in operating the plant efficiently for a number of years. That means investors have to use their resources efficiently. The more efficient the construction is, the more revenue is generated, which makes it more sustainable. The UAE is improving its chances to become carbon neutral.
What are ACCIONA’s major takeaways, and what are your next primary priorities?
In the future, nuclear power may be considered sustainable, as it is a cleaner source of energy. I see clean hydrogen in the next eight to 10 years. ACCIONA has signed an agreement with California-based Plug Power to develop large-scale green hydrogen projects in Spain and Portugal. We have already built a green hydrogen plant funded by EU and a number of partners that will shortly commence production in the island of Mallorca. Currently, the UAE has a solid transport infrastructure, but lacks a good railway network. It has launched Etihad rail, which is under construction. It will connect cities by train, and I look forward to that because it will reduce pollution. We will see interesting projects like the Dubai sewerage gravity tunnels, the Dubai waterfront, bridges and tunnels, and infrastructure in Jebel Ali. Many things will come up, and it will be busy.