How the United Kingdom is boosting the Gulf's green energy aspirations
Britain is positioned to play a key role in the Gulf's decarbonisation vision as it goes forward with its progressive renewable energy programmes.
Green technology (greentech) employs over 750,000 people in the United Kingdom, and much of its innovation is closely connected to the country's prestigious network of universities and research institutions.
Clean energy has progressed quickly in the Gulf countries since 2014, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
By 2018, the regional project pipeline had grown to nearly 7 gigawatts (GW) of new power generation capacity, thanks to record-breaking bids at auctions in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which rendered solar power cost-competitive with traditional energy technologies.
According to an IRENA report, the Gulf region has a goal to cut yearly water consumption by 16 percent, conserve 400 million barrels of oil, generate up to 210,000 jobs, and reduce its per capita carbon footprint by 8% by 2030.
“UK businesses are well-placed to partner with the Gulf to optimise the region’s vast domestic renewable resources,” Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner to the Middle East, Simon Penney said.
“With a strong heritage of innovation and technology investment, several major British greentech businesses are already on the ground playing an important role in shaping and supporting the regional greentech ecosystem,” said Penney.
Energy-efficient heating and cooling, renewable energy, green construction, and wastewater treatment, according to Wes Schwalje, COO of Dubai-based research firm Tahseen Consulting, are among the greentech sectors in which the UK is expected to play a stronger role in the post-Brexit bilateral trade and investment partnership.
Solar Water Plc, based in the United Kingdom, has created the world's first carbon-neutral hydro-infrastructure project, which will provide large amounts of clean water for urban, industrial, agricultural, and biotech use.
The technology comprises of a glass and superconductive steel dome into which seawater flows. The sun's energy is captured by large parabolic mirrors that cover the dome, heating and evaporating the seawater into fresh water.
David Reavley, CEO of Solar Water, said the company is set to break ground on its first project at Neom, Saudi Arabia’s vast upcoming smart city, in the new few weeks.
The company is initially launching a 20 metre-diameter dome at Neom, followed by a series of larger domes at the city – up to 50 metres in diameter – Reave said.
“Based on its proximity to the water, each dome can cost up to $25 million depending on its size,” he added.
Solar Water is collaborating with Jordan Phosphate Mines, one of the country's biggest firms, as well as with authorities in the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar.
“Our domes are quick to build and we deliver national value as most of the construction materials can be sourced in-country, such as steel, glass and concrete,” said Reave. “We import very little of the infrastructure and you can use in-country management and labour to maintain it.”
The company is also in talks to “reforest” the desert with its domes and topsoil.
“We believe that it’s possible to reforest Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Egypt with our domes. If you go back centuries, parts of North Africa were forested. The process of reforestation can take five years – we are in talks with the various governments,” Reave said.
Desolenator, a London-based solar company, said that it is collaborating with “one of the most innovative municipalities in the world” to demonstrate the ability to generate clean drinking water in a renewable and ocean-safe manner.
The flagship project, which will be announced later this year, uses solar power to purify water from any source including seawater.
“The technology could prove critical in areas where natural water has been polluted or where sea water is the only available source,” said Alexei Levene, co-founder and commercial director at Desolenator.
The business has also been awarded the Expo Live 2020 Dubai Innovation Impact Grant Program, demonstrating its performance in the Gulf. A demonstration pilot of the company's solution, which can deliver up to 10 m3 of water per day, is currently being constructed at a DEWA site in Jebel Ali.
“We see many opportunities to provide clean drinking water in the Gulf, and to underpin the critical energy-food-water nexus,” said Levene. “Our systems create the highest purity water, which can be remineralised for other uses such as fertigation in agriculture, or for bottling to supply the growing hospitality industry.”
The introduction of fertilizers into an irrigation system is known as fertigation.
The Gulf wants to increase domestic supply of sustainable water and agricultural production while reducing reliance on foreign supplies, according to the Desolenator co-founder.
“The region’s burgeoning youth population creates a huge opportunity to build employment in a new green economy that harnesses abundant resources, such as solar and hydropower,” Levene said.
In a joint venture with local company Wakud, UK-based GreenFuels is powering Oman's first sustainable biodiesel factory. The facility will use used cooking oil as a feedstock and is set to open in Q2 2021.
“In the Gulf, our feedstock is entirely derived from waste vegetable oils and fats. We work with local aggregators and waste management companies to source it,” Julian Beach, business development director at GreenFuels said.
The company is the world's largest provider of decentralised waste-to-biodiesel processors, with over 400 million litres of renewable fuel generated annually in more than 50 countries.
GreenFuels is already in talks to expand its model outside of Oman, according to Beach, who added that there is "considerable scope" for capacity building across the Gulf.
“The company is in advanced discussions with project sponsors and partners in a number of territories,” he said.
“We need to decarbonise today, not in 10 years’ time. Liquid, drop-in biofuels are the shortest, least capex-intensive route to decarbonisation of road, air and marine transport because they require no modification of propulsion systems or delivery infrastructure,” Beach said.
Kiverco, based in Northern Ireland, has designed and built a solution that will recycle all waste from Expo 2020 Dubai, which will take place in November this year. The factory, which is expected to be finished in early 2020, would remove a higher percentage of waste from landfills than any previous World Expo.
Averda has also selected the company to design, develop, and install a waste recycling plant that will assist in the disposal of all construction waste from the Red Sea Project (RSP) in Saudi Arabia.
The RSP has committed to going beyond conventional sustainability commitments by taking a regenerative approach to tourism for the development, particularly during construction. The project promises to contribute no waste to landfill, use no single-use plastics, and be carbon neutral until finished.
“Kiverco has been active in the Gulf region since 2013 when recycling was in its infancy and focused mainly in the UAE,” said Con Gallagher, global sales manager at Kiverko.
“Since then, there has been much more focus on recycling with Saudi Arabia setting ambitious recycling targets as part of its Vision 2030 strategy and Qatar recycling construction waste generated from the many infrastructure projects associated with the 2022 World Cup.”
According to a report from the United Nations and King Abdulaziz University, the Gulf region regularly ranks among the top 10% of per capita waste producers in the world.
The GCC produces about 120 million tonnes of waste per year, with 55 percent being construction and demolition (C&D) waste, 20 percent being municipal solid waste (MSW), 18 percent being industrial waste, and seven percent hazardous waste, according to the report.
Kiverco has built and commissioned multiple waste management plants throughout the region, according to Gallagher, to manage a range of waste sources such as construction, demolition, commercial, industrial, and mixed solid waste (household waste).
“If we are to reverse the decades of harm we have done to our planet then it is imperative that the Gulf nations take action to divert all waste from landfill and create a truly sustainable future,” said Gallagher.
“If treated properly, waste is a resource with significant value. We can help realise this value and contribute to a circular economy that builds a brighter future for the next generation,” he added.
According to Tahseen Consulting’s Schwalje, green energy is set to form part of an upcoming post-Brexit GCC–UK trade and investment agreement.
“With the volatility in oil prices accelerating the need to start thinking about the energy transition in the MENA, the UK’s strength and experience in solar and wind energy could find a significant regional market opportunity as long-standing fossil fuel subsidies are shifted to renewable energy,” Schwalje said.
“From an economic perspective, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are some of the UK’s largest trade partners and export markets outside the EU. From a strategic standpoint, the GCC is a leverage point the UK will use to build deeper trade and investment partnerships with trade partners in the MENA and Africa,” he added.