GOING GREEN

UAE, Dubai 2012 | ENERGY | FOCUS: GREEN TECHNOLOGY

Dubai is becoming a regional role model for the green energy business. In the past year, construction began on the Emirate's first sustainable city, a massive solar park was launched, and the British University in Dubai opened the UAE's first solar academ


In 2012, the Supreme Energy Council of Dubai began implementing its Integrated Energy Strategy for 2030. The plan calls for a more diverse and renewable energy mix over the next two decades. In 2020, the contribution of natural gas to Dubai's electrical energy will decrease by 10% to 85%, clean coal will contribute 14%, and solar 1%. By 2030, natural gas will contribute just 71%, nuclear power and clean coal technologies 24%, and solar power 5%. The strategy also aims to reduce total energy consumption 30% from its present rate by 2030.

Various business councils and associations devoted to cleaner and more efficient energy use are appearing on Dubai's scene. The Clean Energy Business Council (CEBC) was established in 2010 to promote clean energy across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. In MENA countries, subsidies for fossil fuels amounted to $166 billion in 2010, two-thirds of the world's total, according to CEBC chairman Nasser Saidi. While most regional governments are reluctant to provide such generous subsidies to renewable energy producers, Saidi says he believes there is potential for Dubai to “emerge as a clean energy and clean technology financing center," particularly through the Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC), Dubai's main financial free zone.

Another free zone in Dubai, TechnoPark, is focused on promoting R&D in renewable energy technologies, especially through its Dubai Institute of Technology. However, the existing incentives for clean energy businesses in Dubai are already quite attractive. In 2011, the Emirate's business-friendly environment and high-tech infrastructure attracted a major clean energy and smart grid developer, RUBENIUS. The firm, a world leader in energy “smart meter" installations and energy storage technologies, was courted by Dubai's Foreign Investment office, and will henceforth operate out of its headquarters in the Emirate.

Enabling the clean energy market in Dubai is the task of the Dubai Carbon Centre for Excellence (DCCE), established in 2011. The DCCE already has 12 active projects, of which seven are in the Clean Development Mechanism pipeline. In total, the projects will represent an annual emissions reduction of 1.7 million tons of CO2 after they are completed. The DCCE's current initiatives range from works such as the DUBAL GTX project, which will improve efficiency in large steam power plants, to green buildings and grid-connected solar installations. In early 2012, the DCCE and Dubai's Supreme Council of Energy signed a memorandum of understanding that included plans to develop a carbon trading scheme within the Emirate.

A few years older than the CEBC and DCCE, the Emirates Green Building Council (EGBC) was founded in 2006, when the federal government of the UAE was first examining the power consumption efficiency of buildings. Globally, buildings represent 40% of the greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere, but in the UAE, buildings consume closer to 80%, according to EGBC Chairman Adnan Sharafi. EGBC functions as a network for new companies looking to invest in Dubai's green building sector. In most building projects, between 10% and 30% energy savings can be quickly achieved, with payback periods of two or three years. It is easier today for firms to get financing for such projects than it was five years ago, says Sharafi, because of the growing “green consciousness" among regional banks.

RENEWABLE ENERGIES

Dubai's most obvious renewable resource is solar energy. But to date, no solar generating power plants have been connected to the Emirate's grid, and private solar producers only generate 4.5 MW. That is about to change. At the beginning of 2012, the government confirmed plans to build a 48-square kilometer solar farm, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, which will have a generating capacity of 1,000 MW when it is completed in 2030. The first utility-scale solar power station in the region, the project will be implemented by the Supreme Council of Energy and operated by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA). In sum, the park is estimated to cost $3.27 billion. The first phase of the project will be finished in 2013, and have a capacity of 10 MW.

In line with the Emirate's new focus on solar energy, a new solar academy opened in Dubai in early 2012. A collaboration between British University in Dubai (BUiD), US-based green energy manufacturer PTL Solar, and Solar Energy International, the academy had an inaugural class of 20 students. The academy offers such five-day courses as “Technical PV Sales and Solar Business" and “Battery Systems," all hosted at BUiD. Aimed at educating and training future regional leaders in energy sustainability, the academy will run its courses every three months.

Solar isn't the only renewable resource waiting to be tapped in Dubai. Biogas has major potential as well, according to Vijaykumar Nair, Managing Director of Indian firm Green Energy and Biotech (GEBC). A tender has been launched to build a Bio-Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) plant in the Sewage Treatment Plant in Dubai City, says Nair. The Bio-CNG plant could convert the methane exhaust from the treatment plant into fuel for municipal vehicles. Another GEBC project will perform the same function with waste from the city's vegetable market and Meydan Racecourse.

GREEN DEVELOPMENT

International green building companies have been involved in Dubai for the past decade. Green Technologies opened an office in the Emirate in 2002 and built the first LEED-certified project in the Middle East in 2006, the Wafi City District Cooling Chiller Plant One. Most green buildings in Dubai have Gold or Silver LEED certification, according to Mario Seneviratne, Director of Green Technologies, while about 10% have platinum status.

Dubai-based EMS International is more focused on energy efficiency consulting in buildings that are at the design and construction stage. EMS has completed 400 green building projects in Dubai, with 20% energy savings accomplished on average. At the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, EMS enabled the developers to save 690 MWh each year by incorporating a sophisticated solar water heating and air conditioning system into the design of the building and its surrounding towers.

When it is completed in 2016, Dubai's first sustainable city will house 10,000 residents over 743,000 sqm. Designed by Diamond Developers, its carbon emissions are projected to be nearly 75% lower than average residential housing in Dubai. The city will feature a recycled wastewater system and sewage for irrigation, a solar farm, a “green belt" of 100,000 trees, and a fully integrated waste disposal system. Transportation options will include solar-energy powered vehicles and horses. A university with three faculties will teach sustainable environmental sciences. Work on the landscape and city infrastructure will begin in late 2012.

Another planned residential development in Dubai, Vertical Village by GRAFT Architects, also features a remarkable array of green technology. No time frame has been announced for the project yet, but it has already generated buzz among the green building community. A vast solar collector array will generate most of the energy, while the buildings will have solar roofs that transport energy into their structures to power air conditioners and provide hot water.

Even Emiratis who don't live in these specially designed green communities will be able to use energy more efficiently through an upcoming DCCE project. The center is designing smart energy kits that provide consumers with a monitor showing the worth of their current and projected energy consumption before they receive their electricity bill. The monitors might even compare each consumer's usage to those of the wider community to further motivate wasteful users to “green" up their behavior.