In the United Arab Emirates, solar energy is on the rise. This small, oil-rich Persian Gulf state is looking to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and greatly increase its renewable energy reliance over the next seven years.
The UAE is among the world's leading oil producers and exporters. This small country currently produces an average of 2.67 million barrels of crude oil per day, the great majority from the geographically dominant capital emirate of Abu Dhabi. However large the Emirati crude oil supply might be, however, that supply is not inexhaustible. Accordingly, the government of Abu Dhabi has been strongly hinting at a desire to diversify its energy production methods, recently proposing to increase the renewable share of Emirati energy production to seven percent by the year 2020.
This government proposal isn't mere rhetoric. The UAE is taking a major step towards its renewable energy development with the nearing completion of Shams-1, which will be the world's largest solar power plant once construction is finished in early 2013. This massive concentrated solar power plant is constructed out of 768 large solar panels and a series of parabolic mirrors that will focus and redirect the collected solar energy to heat water and power a steam turbine. Once operational, Shams-1 will have a capacity of 100 megawatts.
International collaboration in solar power development
Shams-1 may only be the beginning of a surge in Emirati solar power development. Abu Dhabi renewable energy company Masdar and French oil giant Total collaborated in the construction of Shams-1 and have announced that they will continue to work on more solar power projects in the UAE. Masdar is also extending its reach outside of the Emirates. The Moroccan government has announced a bold plan to increase its country's renewable energy share to 43 percent by 2020. On January 21, Masdar signed an agreement with the country's Ministry of Energy, Mines, Water and Environment to help Morocco reach its goal.
Abu Dhabi's green school
Emirati schoolchildren are also leading the way in solar power development. Six years ago, several students at the private Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Bangladesh Islamia School in Abu Dhabi formed an environmental club, and in January of 2013, its members won funding for the installation of solar panels on the school auditorium's roof. The US-manufactured solar panels that the school plans to install will be capable of 360 degree rotation and will produce 22 kilowatt hours of energy per day.
Why the UAE?
Why has the United Arab Emirates suddenly opened up to the possibilities of solar power? Much of the recent drive towards renewable energy reliance has to do with the policies of the government of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE. Clean and renewable energy initiatives often meet with intense resistance from the oil and natural gas lobbies. The government of Abu Dhabi has seemingly ignored this pressure, investing 15 billion USD in Masdar in 2008. Abu Dhabi's push towards renewable energy reliance has also influenced its neighbors. The government of Qatar, a small, oil- and natural gas-rich peninsula jutting into the Gulf, has announced plans to increase its solar energy reliance to 20 percent of its total energy share, and the Saudi Arabian state oil company Saudi Aramco started a fund for local renewable energy development in July of 2012.
The Persian Gulf region has massive oil and gas reserves, but as one of the hottest and sunniest parts of the world, it also has great solar resources to exploit. If the Emirati commitment to solar power continues to grow, the Persian Gulf region may become a world leader in renewable energy usage.