UK-Gulf relations ripe for green tech collaboration

19 January 2021
British research infrastructure is well placed to support the Gulf's growing green energy focus, says Simon Penney, Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for the Middle East

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As the Gulf works towards meeting its ambitious sustainable energy targets, regional leaders are leveraging a global network of partners to achieve their goals. Chief among these collaborators is the UK, home to one of Europe’s largest green technology – or green tech – communities and a thriving renewable energy sector.

The global call to address climate change lends an opportunity to lay the foundations for sustainable, inclusive growth and create employment in the industries of the future. The UK and the Middle East are increasingly discovering common ground between Britain’s industrial and energy strategy priorities and the visionary strategies of the Gulf.

The Middle East benefits from abundant sunshine and vast space for solar development, as well as ample wind power. Harnessed correctly, these natural resources will help propel the region on its journey towards a 100 per cent sustainable future.

The UK and Middle East are increasingly discovering common ground between Britain’s industrial and energy strategy priorities and the Gulf's visionary strategies
Simon Penney, Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for the Middle East

According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), clean energy has advanced rapidly in the Gulf countries since 2014.

The regional project pipeline reached almost 7GW of new power generation capacity by 2018, after record-breaking bids at auctions in the UAE and Saudi Arabia made solar power cost-competitive with conventional energy technologies.

Wealth and socio-economic development across the GCC remain closely tied to the region’s substantial oil and gas reserves. Yet rising populations and economic diversification have led to greater energy demand.

Renewables, although a relatively recent entrant to the regional energy landscape, hold vast potential to cut fuel costs, reduce carbon emissions, conserve scarce water and create jobs.

UK leadership on green tech

In line with its global sustainability ambitions, the UK is set to host COP26, the world’s foremost climate change conference in November. Britain is leading from the front as the first industrialised economy to make a legally binding net-zero commitment.

COP26 President Alok Sharma is speaking virtually at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (18-21 January 2021), outlining COP26 priorities to raise global climate ambition and action.

The UK remains a world leader in green tech – a catchall term for technology that drives clean energy production, particularly the use of technology to create power that is less harmful to the environment than fossil fuels.

Underpinning the British economy, the green tech sector employs more than 750,000 people. In 2019, it invested more than £14bn ($19.05bn) in the UK and generated £95bn in value-added economic activity.

Close collaboration between energy sectors and the UK’s academic and research communities is continually bringing new technologies to market – supported by world-class education, research and technology transfer centres.

As Middle Eastern governments ramp up their sustainability policies, the scope for British green tech collaboration is vast

British green tech in the Gulf

UK businesses are well placed to partner with the Gulf to optimise the region’s vast domestic renewable resources. Several major British green tech businesses, across sectors such as waste-to-energy, desalination, wind power and solar storage, are already on the ground in the Middle East helping to springboard the region towards its sustainability goals.

London-headquartered Solar Water is partnering with the Gulf to implement the world’s first carbon-neutral hydro-infrastructure desalination dome, designed to produce clean water for municipal and industrial consumption without the need for fossil fuels or excess brine waste. The region’s first Solar Water dome will be located at Neom in Saudi Arabia.

Neom announced on 30 January 2020 that it had chosen the UK's Solar Water to build its first ever ‘solar dome’ desalination plant. Credit: Solar Water

In another exciting example of green tech collaboration (pictured right), UK-based GreenFuels is powering Oman’s first sustainable biodiesel plant in a joint venture with local company Wakud.

The facility will use old cooking oil as feedstock and is expected to be operational by the second quarter of this year.

What is more, Scottish company Ryse Energy – a global leader in renewable off-grid energy systems – has recently moved its international operations to Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, demonstrating its commitment to the region as it expands into new markets to decarbonise infrastructure in the oil and gas and telecommunications industries.

UK export credit support

These innovative examples represent just a taste of the potential that the UK-Gulf partnership holds for mutual green tech knowledge sharing and implementation.

This commitment to green tech extends to financing. UK Export Finance (UKEF) provides direct loans to overseas buyers and has allocated £2bn to support clean growth projects.

As Middle Eastern governments continue to ramp up their sustainability policies, the scope for British green tech collaboration is vast.

With a strong heritage of innovation and technology investment, UK companies are set to continue to play an important role in shaping and supporting the regional green tech ecosystem – the backbone of the Gulf’s low-carbon future.

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