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Renewables and sustainable initiatives to cut energy demand by 30%

Interview - July 16, 2015

The Worldfolio meets Ahmed Buti Al Muhairbi, Secretary General of the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, to gain a more in-depth grasp of Dubai’s integrated approach to increase the share of renewable energy to 7% by 2020 and 15% by 2030, thereby reducing energy demand almost by a third.


The Water, Energy, Environment Technology Exhibition, Wetex 2015, was the 17th edition of what is now considered as one of the main global events on sustainable development. What would you say were the main highlights and what are the expectations for Wetex 2016?

I think the most important thing for us here, as the Supreme Council of Energy (DSCE), is to drive our green agenda forward.

We actually started from Dubai and we are now also working nationwide.

Wetex is sponsored by one of our entities, DEWA (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority), and has become a very successful event as it brought in experts from all around the world.

During Wetex 2015, we also had the World Green Economy Summit, where we addressed one of the most important topics, which is how to build successful partnerships, and also focused on the funding mechanisms to further develop the green economy.

These two issues have been addressed and discussed fully; experts really came to this event to spell out what the answers are for these challenges.

In the Emirate of Dubai, we support His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision of “green economy for sustainable development”.

As we speak, we are in full review of the energy portfolio of the Emirate of Dubai. In this respect, another crucial aspect of our job is to secure the supply of energy for Dubai with a horizon of 15 years from now.

In addition, another pillar is to reduce the carbon emission by 16% by the year 2021.

And this all comes in line with the UAE agenda. Moreover, we are tackling energy waste, which is estimated to provide savings for an additional 50 megawatts.

So to sum up, the DSCE is an umbrella that oversees the whole strategy in different areas.

If you want to be greener that means looking at your energy mix; increasing the share of renewables; reducing the carbon footprint; securing the supply of energy; and trying to lower the demand of energy.

If we look at market trends, for example, the forecasted annual growth in energy demand stands at 5%. How is the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy planning to achieve the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy 2030’s objective of reducing energy consumption by 30%?

It’s a very interesting challenge. That’s why we had approached this matter in a systematic way. We did not leave it to attempts or uncoordinated initiatives.

We have made solid demand-side management programs. We have eight solid programs, one of which is the Green Building Code, with a plan for 30,000 buildings to be retrofitted.

The role model for us is the government. If the government does it, the private sector will come along.

So we are starting with the government, and we want to drive the public sector first. With this program, we provide financial support, technical assistance, and whatever else is needed.

So, for instance, in terms of financial support, we are developing a green fund mechanism that will provide the necessary capital to retrofit.

We like to learn from other countries’ experiences. Recently we visited Copenhagen to learn more about the green fund they have established, and we were pleased to find out how successful it was.

They have used a pension fund available, and the mechanism works not just in Copenhagen but all over Denmark.

Their model promotes efficiency, renewable energy, and at the same time, innovation and R&D through funding opportunities.

The objective is to reduce consumption by 30% over the next 15 years. At DSCE, we are all working towards this goal, and we are revising the energy mix of the Emirate of Dubai, thereby targeting to increase the share of renewable energy by 7% in 2015 and 15% by 2030.

Originally it was 5%. That means the objective moved from 1,000 megawatts to roughly 3,000 megawatts.

So it’s a quite a big leap forward. This will be achieved by maximizing the capability of our Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park.

Yet, this is just an example of our strategy to foster green energy and sustainable development.

According to our Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy, by 2030 Dubai the energy mix will be diversified by adding new energy sources such as clean coal, renewable energy including solar power, nuclear power, and gas.

From a business point of view, many consumers and investors alike don’t see the benefits of renewable energy, as they don’t perceive it as either cost-effective or they don’t really see the return on investment. What is your point of view on this matter?

I think renewable energy has already shown to us that it’s successful. One of the main challenges today is not only to secure energy supply, reduce demand, and provide the right mix of energy, but also to care about the environment. And the only way to do this is by developing different sources of renewable energy.

We want our people in the UAE to be the happiest in the world, and indeed we have also developed a happiness index to measure it!

And that means you can sleep well, you can enjoy fresh air, you can commute and do your work at a very pleasant pace, and the environment is the cornerstone of all this.

So when we are reducing emissions and carbon footprint, we are reducing the health risk for everybody. So people don’t like it because they have not seen the full benefit of it. But welfare and development go beyond mere economic growth or wealth.

To achieve our objectives, we are bringing the necessary technology to the UAE. For now, we are mostly importing talents from abroad, but our goal in the future is to increase R&D in the Solar Park for instance.

This is where people can exchange ideas and think ahead. Back in the 1990s, thinking about solar energy seemed ridiculous.

But now technology has promoted it quickly. Technology can move fast, and I think we have to leverage innovation, as it will bring economic efficiency, such as driving energy prices down, and it will transform knowledge and know-how.

As you underlined the importance of technology and innovation, I have an interesting quote of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum that I would like you to comment on. He recently said the “knowledge economy will be one of the main factors for the successful achievement of the vision of our wise leadership to transform Dubai into a smart city.”

This is indeed a very interesting statement. Dubai is small, so we are limited in terms of space.

Knowledge is what will drive our economy forward. It is not heavy industries; we are not going to be able to compete globally with other countries that are already ahead of us in these areas.

We want to develop economic services that are mobile and have the capability of connecting minds and individuals all around the world.

Look at, for example, Emirates Airline. Emirates is a grand success story.

Now it’s bringing the whole world together. It’s a case study of excellence in Dubai, as it connects a small space such as our country to the whole world.

This is the idea. To use the whole world; this is what is important.

So we could launch a technical idea, a technical product, a knowledge-based product from Dubai, and the whole world will become the land for that.

I think we, in the UAE, should focus on developing smart cities with smart integrated services, connected to each other by utilizing resources sustainably.

That is why DEWA, for instance, invests almost 30% in new ideas, in innovation.

The world has shrunk. Besides Copenhagen, we also went to Vienna and Rome to learn about other programs.

We studied from their experiences and we are now focusing on rolling out an EV (electric/hybrid vehicles) program, as we want EVs to stand for 10% of the vehicles in circulation.

As you mentioned, “partnership” was the key word of WGES/Wetex 2015. When it comes to the relations between the UAE and the US, the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy did an extensive trip in 2012. Last year, DEWA visited many cities in order to check out the latest developments in terms of technology. What can Dubai represent for American investors who want to come here and penetrate the MENASA market?

In Dubai, we have now established the regulation and a positive ecosystem that will leverage our considerable room for growth.

The ever-growing urban population creates an increasing demand for energy, which corresponds to investment opportunities in terms of energy supply, R&D, and innovation.

With the establishment of the RSB, the Regulatory and Supervisory Bureau of Dubai, the environment for investment is correct, as there is a regulatory body to protect the investor.

I’d like to bring an example here. After winning the bid to develop, construct, and operate the solar photovoltaic independent power project of a net power capacity of 200 MW (260MWp installed) for the Phase II of the power plant located at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the chairman of ACWA Power said he intends to further develop renewable energy in the Gulf.

He came to Dubai first, because he said he trusts the government and the stakeholders and he knows he can trust that the project will not fail as we always support our investors and we are here to deliver.

So this is what Dubai represents: a launching pad for the rest of Gulf and beyond.

What would you say are the main drivers of the transformation of this country?

This is a very important point, and I must answer it very precisely. The transformation is somehow exemplified in our model and symbol of the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy, DIES 2030.

Our sustainability trip has not just been a random thing. We have a model that talks about all the work we have now integrated together.

All that represents to me the spirit of the UAE, of our leadership that implemented a strong vision very early in our life as a unified country.

Leadership is what plays the whole game. It comes from the top, from our President and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan; and Vice President, Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum; they are the drivers of change in the UAE.

At the early stage of our development, we were conventional, in all aspects. We started driving the biggest cars, building the largest roads, wasting energy.

Many thought, “who cares?” We are an oil producer, we can live over 200 years.

But then the government saw the need to reserve our resources and preserve them for our future generations, because when you are developing, when you are in a boom, you are shortsighted.

In this respect, I think the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy (DIES) represents the wider shift we undertook thanks to the vision of our leadership.

So, DIES is like a boat moving forward. Leadership is the sail in the front which includes the government, institutions, our leaders, the DSCE, and our entities.

On the basis of the leadership’s vision we create the policy, namely capacity building; diversification of energy sources; demand-side management and energy efficiency; energy pricing and consumer behavior; investment in clean and smart technology – which is the main sail in the center of the boat.

Finally, the third sail is represented by our stakeholders, in the public and private sectors as well as ESCOs, because progress doesn’t happen when you work isolated; we understood the importance of getting everybody on board, and we did that from day one.

All partnerships and PPPs are mechanisms to move forward. If you are able to sail the boat smoothly, you bring happiness.

You definitely need to have a structure. Long gone are the days of just initiatives. It would be like jumping on a boat without sails.

That’s why DIES stresses the importance of integration…

Correct, our strategy is integrated for a reason. And for me, “integration” also means “to keep building on.” We need to know how to leverage what our predecessors have done before.

This vision and strategy didn’t come from our generation. We’re talking about four generations ago. And you now can appreciate the benefits. So this is a roadmap that will keep going on.

Dubai is an open market. It is an open market to ideas, investors, people, and it will remain like this.

We are continuously building momentum for the next big thing, for our next target in the future. Expo 2020 is only part of that. I’m sure after 2020, there will be even more exciting opportunities here.