INHABITAT: The region is implementing several large-scale solar projects such as Shams 1 (outside Abu Dhabi). How will this affect the power infrastructure of the UAE?
Thani Al-Zeyoudi: We will continue to work in close coordination with our power production companies. The UAE has experienced a 10% population growth rate over the last decade, which is among the world’s highest. To achieve balanced growth, we must be powered by a sustainable range of energy resources based on a sound clean energy mix.
We currently have two major solar fields planned. Shams 1 is a milestone project, the first utility-scale solar power project in the Middle East. And the Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai will eventually deliver 1,000 MW of clean energy. Both of these are essential to meeting our firm clean energy goals, 7% renewable energy use in Abu Dhabi by 2020 and 5% in Dubai by 2030. These are the first such targets in our entire region.
INHABITAT: What other alternative energy projects are the UAE currently pursuing?
Thani Al-Zeyoudi: The UAE is leading the IRENA Global Solar and Wind Atlas. The international project is mapping the specific effects of regional climates on the effectiveness and geographic viability of clean energy sources. Our contribution to the Atlas will serve a model for developing countries, and those with similar climatic conditions, to design clean energy polices and procure financing and partners. Our first solar maps will be launched at the Rio Summit.
Also, through Masdar, the UAE is bringing game-changing alternative energy innovations to life through our global partnerships. Masdar is one of three international partners in the UK’s London Array, the world’s largest offshore wind project, which will avoid almost one-million tonnes of CO2 each year. And our cutting-edge Torresol Energy solar projects in Spain are achieving ground-breaking results in renewable energy storage, able to produce electricity 24-hours-a-day.
Additionally, the UAE is utilizing our international alliances to safely and securely develop peaceful, carbon-free nuclear energy, enabling us to fulfill the needs of our growing population while reducing our carbon emissions. We’re also reducing our energy consumption through efficiency measures across many sectors, from instituting the first mandatory building codes in the Middle East to removing the least-efficient 20% of air conditioners from the market.
INHABITAT: What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing the environment today, both in the UAE and globally?
Thani Al-Zeyoudi: Globally, the most pressing challenge is the limited access to viable solutions to address climate change. We need more international partnerships, innovation, and information transfer to address and mitigate the effects of climate change.
In the UAE, we have experienced a 10% population growth rate over the last decade, among the world’s highest. We’re also a low-lying, coastal country. The threat of sea-level rise is certainly a concern for us and, because of our extreme climate, we’re facing more prolonged droughts. So as populations like ours expand and extreme climate conditions intensify, creating a sustainable future for all will hinge on empowering ourselves to ensure that we are all using our resources more responsibly.
Stay tuned for more interviews and news about the Rio+20 conference.
Dr. Al-Zeyoudi is the Head of the Directorate of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) within the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), where he leads the country’s development of sustainable foreign and domestic policy. He is also the UAE representative for the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) within DECC, acting as the focal point for the UAE on issues relating to IRENA, including participation in the initial bid process. Prior to joining DECC he worked at Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s initiative advancing renewable energy technologies and solutions, where he was part of the Clean Development Mechanism and ZAKUM Field for Abu Dhabi Marine Oil Company. Dr. Al-Zeyoudi holds a Bachelor’s degree in Petroleum Engineering from the Tulsa University, an MBA from New York Institute of Technology, MSc in Project Management from British University in Dubai, and a PhD in Strategy, Programme & Project Management from SKEMA Business School in France.