The UAE is expected to showcase its growing green credentials at the Cop28 climate summit, which starts on 30 November in Dubai.
In addition to gradually phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and eliminating methane flaring, UAE-based energy and utility companies have mobilised multibillion-dollar public and private investments in utility-scale clean and renewable energy plants, reverse osmosis technology-based water desalination plants and carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) projects.
These projects aim to reduce harmful emissions – mainly carbon dioxide – offsetting the environmental impact of the country’s oil industry while it aims to meet its nationally determined contributions (NDCs) for the Paris Agreement, its energy diversification agenda set in 2017, as well as its 2050 net-zero target.
Barakah nuclear power plant
Three of the four reactors at the $29bn Barakah nuclear power plant, located close to the UAE’s border with Saudi Arabia, are operational. Each unit can produce 1,400MW of electricity. The UAE is also looking for opportunities to export its nuclear expertise by investing in and developing nuclear power plants overseas.
Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum Solar Park
The UAE’s first and largest solar photovoltaic (PV) installation is located 50 kilometres away from the Cop28 venue. Nearly all the first five phases of the solar park are operational, with a total combined installed capacity of more than 2.4GW. The project’s fourth phase, probably the world’s largest hybrid solar PV and concentrated solar power plant, is nearing completion. The contract to develop the project’s sixth phase, which is designed to have an installed capacity of 1.8GW, has been awarded this year.
Sweihan and Al-Dhafra solar power plants
Abu Dhabi’s first solar PV plant, the 935MW Sweihan independent power project (IPP), began operating in 2019. The UAE capital’s second utility-scale solar PV IPP in Al-Dhafra, which has a capacity of 1.5GW, is expected to be inaugurated imminently. Emirates Water & Electricity Company (Ewec) received world-record-low tariffs, as has Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (Dewa), for these projects.
Taweelah reverse osmosis facility
With a capacity of 200 million imperial gallons a day, the plant is the world’s largest reverse osmosis-based water desalination facility. Half of the plant’s capacity was completed in 2022, with the other half now in the final commissioning stage. Taweelah is the country’s first independent water producer project, which resulted from the drive to decouple water and power production as a key initiative to decarbonise both sectors.
Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) and Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) have been operating the Al-Reyadah carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) facility since 2016. It can capture up to 800,000 tonnes a year (t/y) of carbon dioxide. About 240,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), collected by Al-Reyadah from Emirates Steel Industries, has been injected into Adnoc's reservoirs at its Rumaitha and Bab oil fields to bolster oil recovery.
The project is in line with Adnoc’s commitment to decarbonise its operations, reduce its carbon intensity by 25 per cent by 2030, and deliver on its net zero by 2045 goal. Adnoc estimates the volume of CO2 being locked away underground daily through CCUS deployment across its reservoirs is equivalent to the emissions of more than 1 million vehicles.
Adnoc Gas recently awarded UK-headquartered Petrofac the main contract for a project to develop a $615m carbon capture facility at its Habshan gas processing complex in Abu Dhabi. The Habshan CCUS facility will have the capacity to capture and permanently store 1.5 million t/y of CO2 within geological formations deep underground.
The Habshan CO2 recovery project will be built, operated and maintained by Adnoc Gas and is expected to be commissioned in 2026. The proposed facility will feature carbon capture units at the Habshan gas processing plant, pipeline infrastructure and a network of wells for CO2 injection into oil and gas fields in Abu Dhabi.
Captured CO2 will be permanently stored in reservoirs deep in the sub-surface by deploying closed-loop CO2 capture and reinjection technology at the well site at Adnoc Onshore’s Bab Far North Field, located about 240 kilometres southwest of Abu Dhabi city.
Street lighting PPP
Abu Dhabi awarded two public-private partnership (PPP) contracts in 2020 and 2022 to replace over 176,000 street lights with LED lights. The first phase of the 12-year PPP project is designed to save the municipality AED264m ($71.9m), while the larger second phase is designed to result in cost savings amounting to close to $200m. The project's phase two aims to reduce power consumption by 74 per cent over the 12-year concession period, equivalent to almost 2,400 million kilowatt hours of electricity savings.
Green data centre
Work is progressing on the first phase of the 100MW data centre powered by solar energy at Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai. Hub Integrated Solutions (Moro Hub), a Dewa subsidiary, is the project client. The data centre is envisaged to become the largest solar-powered Uptime Tier 3-certified data centre in the Middle East and Africa, offering digital products and services based on fourth industrial revolution technologies, such as cloud services. The project supports the emirate’s goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and the UAE 2031 Artificial Intelligence Strategy.
Hydrogen pilot site
Dewa, in partnership with Expo 2020 Dubai and Germany’s Siemens Energy, inaugurated the AED50m ($14m) green hydrogen plant at Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum Solar Park in 2021. The integrated facility was developed with electrolysis, storage and re-electrification capabilities. Daylight solar power from the solar park will enable the pilot project to produce about 20.5 kilograms an hour of hydrogen at 1.25MW of peak power.
Large green hydrogen projects
There is an expectation that the Abu Dhabi Department of Energy will issue the UAE capital's green hydrogen policy before the start of, or during, the Cop28 climate summit. If this happens, planned green hydrogen projects worth at least $12bn could see rapid progress.
These projects include the 150MW green hydrogen-based ammonia production plant in Ruwais being developed by France's Engie and Abu Dhabi's Fertiglobe and Masdar; the $1bn green ammonia facility being planned by a South Korean-led consortium in Khalifa Economic Zones Abu Dhabi (Kezad); and the Masdar City green hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuel project being developed by Masdar, France's Total Energies, Germany’s Siemens Energy and Japan's Marubeni Corporation.
Other projects that are likely to be highlighted include the planned 400MW battery energy storage system in Abu Dhabi and the seawater reverse osmosis facilities that are under construction or in the bid phase across the UAE.
Projects to retrofit public buildings to improve their sustainability, and the adoption of district cooling and electric vehicle policies, among others, will also likely share the spotlight as the UAE prepares to host its most important event of 2023.
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