Oil-rich Gulf Turns to Renewable Energy

The increased frequency of climate-induced weather extremes and public opinion pressure are forcing even major fossil fuel exporting countries in West Asia to make a big push towards renewable energy


By Kunda Dixit
KATMANDU, Jan 29 2020 – The increased frequency of climate-induced weather extremes and public opinion pressure are forcing even major fossil fuel exporting countries in West Asia to make a big push towards renewable energy.

In January alone, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) hosted the Gulf Intelligence UAE Energy Forum, the World Future Energy Summit, the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week and a Future Sustainability Summit. February onwards, Dubai will have the International Conference on Renewable and Sustainable Energy, International Conference on Green Energy and Environmental Technology, with a Green Week and a Congress on Biofuels and Bioenergy later this year.

The UAE is the world’s 7th largest exporter of crude oil, with 5.5% of market share, but is promoting itself as a low-carbon country. Masdar City, a model for sustainable urban living is coming up outside Abu Dhabi which is designed by Foster and Partners architects.

A 10MW solar farm outside the city provides solar power for the office buildings, which includes the regional headquarters of Siemens and IRENA (the International Renewable Energy Agency). Oil industry conclaves that used to focus on global price trends, prospecting and new oil fields now have plenary panels on solar and wind.

“Rising energy needs … climate change pressures and technological innovation mean that national oil companies must gravitate towards renewables for longer-term competitiveness and sustainability.”

Raoul Restucci, Managing Director of Petroleum Development Oman

“We are serious about energy security, and we have a strategy for an energy mix that includes renewables,” said Suhail bin Mohammed Faraj Faris Al Mazrouei, UAE Minister of Energy and Industry at the opening of the UAE Energy Forum earlier this month. That decarbonisation plan would mean the country by 2050 will be producing 38% of its energy from gas, 44% from renewables, 6% from nuclear and the use of clean coal will drop to 12%.

In the rest of the oil-rich Gulf region, petroleum-based energy will drop from the current 91% to 41%, and renewables will go up from 9% today to 59% .

Of the UAE’s 10 million population, 90% are expatriates and the country’s per capita carbon footprint is 23 tons per year. Although a low carbon trajectory would reduce total emissions, the UAE will remain a major exporter of fossil fuels into the future.

Even so, the writing was on the wall in Abu Dhabi throughout January – conference delegates felt there is no option but to move from oil to more a more efficient fossil fuel like gas, and promote utility scale solar and wind.

Even oil industry executives called for a green approach. Raoul Restucci, Managing Director of Petroleum Development Oman says: “Rising energy needs … climate change pressures and technological innovation mean that national oil companies must gravitate towards renewables for longer-term competitiveness and sustainability.”

This year, Oman is commissioning a 100MW solar farm. Saudi Arabia is turning into ‘Solar Arabia’ by integrating Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) with its existing thermal plants to generate nearly 2GW. It is adding 300MW solar photovoltaic and a 400MW wind project, and is thinking big: generate 200GW of solar power by 2030.


The increased frequency of climate-induced weather extremes and public opinion pressure are forcing even major fossil fuel exporting countries in West Asia to make a big push towards renewable energy



The UAE itself is aiming to cut CO2 emissions by 70% with Dubai installing the largest single-site solar park in the world to produce 1,000MW, which will be upgraded to 5,000MW in the next ten years. Another CSP plant will generate electricity 700MW even after dark with molten salt storage. Elsewhere, solar plants balance the fluctuation in generation by pumping water to hydropower dams, releasing the water through turbines at night.

“However much we shift to renewables from transportation or electricity, we will still have to rely on oil and gas because we have to balance the baseload at night,” explains Jan Zschommler of the DNV GL, the Norway-based sustainability consultant group.

Projections show that although oil will supply 17% of the energy around the world in 2050, petroleum gas will be the primary energy source from the mid-2020s and in the next 20 years there will be a shift to non-fossil biogas.

The cost of solar photovoltaic panels has dropped by more than 90% in the past ten years, and the price of lithium ion batteries have dropped by 80% and onshore wind turbines by 75% in the same period. By 2025, it will be cheaper to build and run electric cars than a petrol vehicle.

However, even if half of all the cars in the world are electric, the demand of oil and gas will grow into the near future. Says Nobuo Tanaka of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation: “Peak oil will not happen before 2040 because even if light vehicles go electric there will be increased demand from aviation, ships and trucks as well as the petrochemical industry. That may be good news for the Middle East, but it’s bad news for the planet.”

This story was originally published by The Nepali Times

Kenya Leapfrogging on 4 SDGS- Building Bridges Between Silicon Savannah and Silicon Valley

The Government of Kenya and the UN Kenya team with their hosts on the roof of the LinkedIn HQ in San Francisco on 21 Jan 2019. Credit: UN

By Dr. Temina Madon and Radhika Shah
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 29 2020 – One year ago, the UN began implementing reforms meant to make it more effective in delivering on sustainable development. Now, with the start of 2020, the global body has declared this as the “decade of action” to turn the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into a living reality for all humanity. But what does this look like, on the ground?

In countries like Kenya, there is widespread belief that the traditional approaches to economic growth are not enough to achieve the SDGs. Fortunately there are signs that the UN is embracing the disruptive innovation that is needed, across the development landscape, to transform the lives of people around the world. At the African Diaspora Investment Symposium held this month in Silicon Valley, USA we saw the UN, government, and private sector leaders engaged in insightful dialogue on how businesses can partner with the public sector to contribute to Africa’s development.

A team led by ICT Minister Joe Mucheru from the Government of Kenya and Siddharth Chatterjee, the UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya, spoke at the symposium. The team also met with several Silicon Valley companies and technology startups, and participated in round tables with local thought leaders at academic institutions like Stanford University and UC Berkeley.

Our interaction with government representatives and the UN team in Kenya has demonstrated an encouraging shift, especially in mobilising public-private partnerships that can transform the economy, rather than simply facilitating transactions.

In Kenya there is a noticeable, deliberate push for public-private partnerships around the SDGs as well as national priorities like the “Big Four” Development Agenda. Working hand-in-glove with the Government, the UN Country Team is branding and presenting Kenya’s national goals as an important and transparent opportunity for the business sector. They are a way to direct private investment toward activities that offer both corporate returns and sustainable development wins.

The trend towards leveraging private sector resources for Kenya’s national priorities, including catalyzing unique win-win partnerships with companies from across the world, is a welcome trajectory. In an era of declining public sector contributions to the global body, UN experts have been pushing for innovation to bridge the gap in investments needed to achieve the SDGs. This requires a mind-set shift: a focus on enabling companies to incorporate the development goals into their core business practices and strategies. And the UN’s leadership is critical in helping to ensure that corporate interests are focused where they will reduce inequality and generate positive social returns.

A demonstration of this new direction is the recent collaboration agreement between the Government of Kenya, the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA) at the University of California, Berkeley, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the United Nations. This initiative will build technology-intensive partnerships that bring new financing, data, and innovations into Kenya’s Big Four Agenda. The collaboration will be implemented through Kenya’s SDG Accelerator Lab — a Government-UN platform for developing, testing, and scaling novel approaches to development.

We are excited about the potential of this initiative to deliver for the citizens of Kenya. For instance, the majority of maternal and newborn deaths are preventable with relatively simple and inexpensive tools, but too often the right life-saving interventions are unavailable where and when they are most needed. Part of the solution may lie in new technologies, like data analytics systems that integrate routine health administrative data with satellite imagery and machine learning.

These systems can, for example, help community health workers to prioritize and triage care and resources to those most at risk. Through partnerships with the companies that build these technologies, Kenya can begin to realize the benefits of the fourth industrial revolution, bringing critical information and insights where they are urgently needed.

Credit must be given to the Kenya government for being at the forefront of technology adoption. Its collaboration with UN in Kenya, a partnership characterized by deep trust and calculated risk-taking, is providing a template for other developing countries seeking to tap technology for sustainable development.

Kenya already stands out as a global frontrunner in the sphere of technological innovation, through such products as the MPesa mobile money transfer service, which has transformed lives — especially for those Kenyans who have for years been kept out of conventional banking. Kenya is also home to profound social innovations, including the use of randomized controlled trials to understand the effectiveness of development programs and products (an innovation merited with the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics).

Of course innovation is not a silver bullet, and achieving the SDGs will require careful thinking about how new technologies is financed, delivered, and regulated — especially if we are to advance the welfare of citizens who feel they are still stuck in neutral. However, if used in a thoughtful manner, technology holds incredible potential to transform governments, development partners, and businesses. Through platforms like the Kenya SDG Accelerator Lab, there are opportunities to harness its full and transformative potential, in ways that leave no one behind.

It is encouraging that the UN and Government are together stewarding the involvement of technology providers, and the broader private sector, in Kenya’s development agenda.

We concur with the observation of UN Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed that there is no time for an incremental approach, and success will rest “first and foremost on a shift in UN’s organizational culture and mind-sets at all levels”.

We see the need for a similar mind-set shift in Silicon Valley. By 2050, one in four people will live on the African continent. In some sense, the future lies in Africa; and the tech sector’s investment must begin to align with this reality.

Temina Madon @tmadon is an Advisor to the Kenya UN SDG Innovation Lab and was founding Executive Director of CEGA at UC Berkeley. She is also a member of South Park Commons, a technology community in Silicon Valley.

Radhika Shah @radhikashahsv is an Advisor to the Kenya UN SDG Innovation Lab and is Co-President, Stanford Angels and Entrepreneurs. She is a board member of CEGA at UC Berkeley.