As the international Cop 21 climate change conference in Paris draws to a close and governments from across the globe make promises to reduce emissions and increase renewable energy resources, the UAE is holding the flag for the GCC’s solar energy ambitions.

While senior officials from both Abu Dhabi and Dubai attended the conference in Paris, utilities from both emirates are pressing ahead with major solar energy projects. While the majority of the Gulf does not have sufficient wind for wind farms, it has some of the highest solar radiation levels in the world and the UAE is keen to harness this to produce power on an increasingly large scale.

After emerging as the region’s pioneer in renewable energy in 2013, when it commissioned its 100MW Shams 1 concentrated solar power (CSP) project, Abu Dhabi’s further renewable energy plans stalled. With power reserve margins becoming increasingly tight, the priority for the UAE capital was pushing ahead with its next major independent water and power project (IWPP), Mirfa, and making progress with its first nuclear power facility at Baraka.

As Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy programme suffered from paralysis, Dubai moved in to pick up the mantle of the Gulf’s solar champion. After completing its first 13MW photovoltaic (PV) in 12 months, the emirate has since awarded contracts for the 200MW photovoltaic (PV) second phase of its flagship Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum solar park. In the process of doing this, it achieved a world record tariff for a large scale solar plant, and raised international recognition of what is possible to achieve for solar energy in the Middle East.

The low tariff has resulted in Dubai moving ahead with the procurement process for an 800MW third phase project, and has also strengthened Abu Dhabi’s resolve to proceed with a large PV solar project.

The challenge for Abu Dhabi will be achieving the same impressively low tariff achieved by its neighbours for its planned 350MW solar IPP. According to sources within its power sector, Abu Dhabi’s utilities are hoping to match or better the tariff achieved in Dubai. However, with the Dubai tariff surprising many in in the international power sector when the tariff achieved beat the $0.06 a kilowatt hour mark, matching this will be no mean feat.

Whether this is achieved or not, Abu Dhabi’s move to develop another major solar project shows that the UAE is emerging as the regional market which delivers on solar energy where others such as Saudi Arabia have so far failed.