Dubai moves forward on renewable targets

Sensemaking / Dubai moves forward on renewable targets

The opening of Dubai's first solar photovoltaic plant marks a first step towards a slightly greener, and more secure, future.

By Jeremy Lovell / 15 Nov 2013

The opening late last month of Dubai’s 13MW solar photovoltaic plant, the biggest to date in the region, marks the first step of the second largest state in the oil and gas-rich United Arab Emirates in plans to generate 5% of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

The plant is the first move under the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy 2030 plan to diversify away from oil and gas towards more renewables, clean coal and nuclear. The plan includes the creation of a giant 40 square kilometre solar park containing both PV and thermal that will eventually have a capacity of 1GW – although even then gas will still account for 71% of the nation’s energy.

The first $35 million, 13MW solar PV plant is designed to generate 24 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and will displace some 15,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year, according to developer First Solar.

It is the first time that OPEC member Dubai, sitting on 6%, or some 4 billion barrels, of the world’s oil reserves has set out to harness the power of the Middle Eastern sun.

But solar panel prices are plummeting, due in large part to China’s massive expansion of its solar PV manufacturing industry, making the plant much cheaper than it would have been even a few years ago. Moreover, it is part of Dubai’s strategy to reduce demand for gas for domestic power generation, with electricity demand set to rise by 5% a year.

International friction with Dubai’s neighbour Iran has eased somewhat after the recent elections, along with talks in Geneva over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions that had foreign ministers from the US and Europe suddenly rushing to Switzerland in the hope of a diplomatic breakthrough.

But tensions remain high in the region with Egypt back under military rule, no end in sight to the Syrian civil war and renewed violence in Iraq. That so-called geopolitical risk has made the price of oil fluctuate, making diversification attractive for oil-rich Dubai. 

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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