Gulf states look beyond solar with foggy renewable vision

Fog fences in a hamlet on the outskirts of the southern coastal city of Sidi Ifni in Morocco. Fog collection projects have already been installed in Oman, and have been recommended as a means of saving water in Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
Updated 04 June 2018
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Gulf states look beyond solar with foggy renewable vision

  • Fog harvesting, hydro-electricity and waste-to-energy are among the innovative technologies rolling out in the region
  • The growth of renewable energy will also increase the need for innovative energy storage methods.

LONDON: From “harvesting fog” in Oman to vertical farming in Dubai, Gulf states are looking beyond solar power in the race to develop innovative renewable technologies.
A surge in investment, triggered by a regionwide economic diversification push, is helping to transform the region into an unlikely global hub for renewables innovation.
Dubai utility DEWA this year signed an agreement to study plans to build a 400MW pumped hydro storage power station — using water from Hatta Dam to generate hydro-electric power from water pumped using solar-powered turbines.
It forms part of the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 which aims to make the emirate a global hub for the green economy and source 75 per cent of its total power output from clean energy.
But it is only one of dozens of major renewable energy projects under way as the huge investment program in solar and offshore wind power in the region extends to other technologies.
“As renewable energy costs decline, technology advances and deployment accelerates around the world, we are entering a new age of energy transformation, with renewable energy becoming a significant driver of economic growth, job creation, and socioeconomic development,” said Adnan Amin, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Urbanization in the Gulf is also spurring investment as the region’s big cities warm up.
Arup, the London-based engineering consultancy, warns that “arid” cities need to innovate more or become less habitable, as they become drier.
Its report “Cities Alive: Rethinking Cities in Arid Environments,” argues that as air conditioning has enabled the growth of arid cities, many are seeing an “urban heat island effect,” where they become hotter than the surrounding rural areas, increasing water use and accelerating energy consumption.
The report urges cities to adopt measures such as industrial-scale fog and dew harvesting and cooling pavements that can reduce ambient temperatures by up to 7 degrees, as well as building more energy-efficient buildings.
“Cities in arid regions are expected to experience the highest rates of natural population growth and urbanization in the coming century. Yet most are still being planned and designed based on a global city-making paradigm from the 1950s. Cities need to adopt strategies that combine technological innovation with locally adapted and climatically appropriate solutions,” said Hrvoje Cindric, an associate at Arup.
Many cutting-edge renewables technologies are being developed at Masdar City in Abu Dhabi.
Masdar City includes IRENA’s headquarters and the new Masdar Institute and aims to be the first city to operate without fossil-fueled vehicles at street level.
“The region will be exploring different applications but they will always be secondary to wind and solar. This is where the main investment is,” says Zoheir Hamedi, MENA program officer at IRENA.
The Indian Ocean coast of Oman is seen as offering strong potential for wind power, as is Saudi Arabia’s northern quarter.
But Hamedi also points to the potential which bio-energy could offer as a renewable energy source in the region.
On this front, The Emirates Waste to Energy Company, a joint venture between Masdar and Bee’ah, signed terms earlier this year with CNIM on a design, build and operate agreement for the first waste-to-energy facility in the UAE in Sharjah.
Due for completion by 2020, the plant will treat more than 300,000 tons of municipal solid waste each year and generate around 30MW of electricity.
Meanwhile, in January, Dubai Municipality signed a 2.5 billion dirhams ($680,700) contract to build a major new waste-to-energy plant at Warsan which will treat 1.82 million tonnes of waste annually and generate some 185MW of electricity.
Swiss engineering company HZI and Belgian firm Besix Group are expected to start construction this year and the plant is expected to be partially operating by 2020.
Geothermal energy also offers potential in the region, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where a study has highlighted the scope for generating energy from a series of hot springs in the Al-Khouba area of Jizan province in the south west of the country.
Fog harvesting using vast vertical sheets of canvas has proved a useful source of water in areas of scarcity such as Morocco.
The Sustainability Pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2020 will use structures that generate solar energy and capture water from humidity in the air to supply much of its water needs.
Fog technology could be useful in KSA, which combines low rainfall with high per-capita water consumption. Data collected over a year at the Rayda reserve weather station suggested fog could provide a supplementary water supply for the agriculture sector in the south west of the Kingdom, according to research in Water and Environment Journal.
Fog collection projects have also been installed in desert areas worldwide, including Oman and Eritrea.
Meanwhile, to accelerate dew harvesting techniques, the partners of the SunGlacier Challenge recently invited teams of universities worldwide to make water from the air.
The growth of renewable energy will also increase the need for innovative energy storage methods.
“New technologies in energy storage will come to the fore, develop, evolve and become more cost-competitive,” said Dietmar Siersdorfer, chief executive of Siemens Middle East, in a recent report.
Hydrogen is seen as a ripe solution for energy storage from a range of a few kilowatts to gigawatts, for several weeks.
Decentralised systems will also allow power users in industry to produce energy independently for their facilities, reducing transmission losses and carbon emissions.
The Siemens report also highlights energy efficiency as a major area for growth in the region, potentially generating savings of up to 30 per cent.
It also notes the rise in energy efficiency services companies (ESCOs) in the region.
The UAE already has about 30 such companies, more than half of them based in Dubai.
Regional governments have stepped up efforts to remove subsidies in the energy sector in recent years as part of a broader push to wean Gulf economies off oil dependence.
However subsidies remain in place in some countries, which can deter investment in renewables, according to analysts.
“The whole thing needs to be re-thought with a proper plan,” said Rahmat Poudineh, lead senior research fellow, electricity at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.
For renewable resources to be integrated economically into the existing energy market, electricity tariffs need to be reformed. Letting renewables compete with existing sources of energy, on a level playing field, is the key issue, he said.
The region also needs to invest in energy efficiency. “Saving 1KWh (kilowatt-hour) of energy is much cheaper than producing 1KWh of clean energy,” Poudineh said.


Davos turns its attention to those left behind by globalization: Interview with Mirek Dusek, WEF director

Updated 22 January 2019
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Davos turns its attention to those left behind by globalization: Interview with Mirek Dusek, WEF director

DAVOS: Mirek Dusek, senior WEF director, spoke to Arab News on the eve of the summit to reveal what will be on the agenda.

Q: What are the big themes of Davos 2019?
A: The theme of this year’s event is divided into two parts. One is globalization 4.0 and the other is about creating a new architecture for international cooperation. We believe that the world is entering quickly a new wave of “globalization.”
We have had different waves of globalization in our history and as a result, we have become integrated in terms of economies. We have lifted many people from around the world from poverty, which has led to immense economic growth driven increasingly by trade. But we have missed something, which is really that the rewards of this have not been shared equitably within nations in particular. So many people point to real incomes in the US, for example.
The rewards for the average American from globalization stopped back in the 1980s and 1990s. So while we realize that globalization is the reality around us, we believe we are entering a new wave that is driven by technological advancement.
We see the fourth industrial revolution all around us, so we believe we are gathered at a really important time to think through how we fix some of the shortcomings we have had in the past. The other part is how we can make sure that we equip the institutional framework to deal with this reality. What do we need to tweak around trade? What is needed in terms of consultation around climate change?
How do we make sure we have a functioning system of helping refugees around the world? These are the things high on the agenda that are quite hard to answer, but that does not mean we should ignore them.

Q: Not many Davos attendees are on zero-hour contracts. Given all the inequality we see in developed and emerging economies, is there more cynicism about the practical usefulness of events like these?
A: Back in the 1990s, Professor Schwab had a lot of foresight in publishing a piece exactly about this.
How do you make sure despite all the excitement about that wave of globalization that you do not leave people behind.
We all see that within nations, and they can be very diverse, from developed to emerging markets, there is a sense that some people have been left behind and that is a clear challenge for decision makers to face.
This meeting and the organization overall is really around providing a platform to accelerate positive change. If you take health for example, we’ve been working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
We see our role as a platform for action by not only political leaders where they provide a policy framework, but also by a lot of the development institutions and business to come together and address some of the deficiencies in the system — like when we identified the deficiency around vaccination.

Q: To what extent is the rise in populism we have witnessed worldwide related to the fourth industrial revolution?
A: There have been other industrial revolutions, eras in which we saw rapid technological change — changing the way people organized themselves or how economies were structured — and so there has always been a level of uncertainty over what this change might bring. We have established a network of centers for technology governance. The sole purpose of that is to be on the front foot and enable governments to catch up with the tremendous development of these technologies. We are also looking at the trends in automation and what it may mean for the jobs of the future. We have a whole piece of work looking at the future of jobs. Nobody knows exactly what it will look like but if we look at past industrial revolutions, the adaptation has been quite remarkable.
Humanity has always found ways to cope with the change and you could argue the upside prevailed. But it is important we don’t underestimate this challenge, particularly in policymaking because if governments don’t have the capacity to react or think through these implications, we could be arriving at a reality that is given to us by random developments.

Q: Davos has always been good at presenting the big questions facing humanity, but what about providing measurable answers?
A: The fourth industrial revolution is an area in which we look for outcomes. I don’t want to pre-empt the announcements, but we are launching partnerships with governments to help them with specific issues. We have already worked in Rwanda with a team that does drone regulation — given how important drones are in that country for the delivery of blood, for example. Of course, we have collaboration with governments and businesses on cyber.
The final thing is around our work with peace and reconciliation. We have a track record for providing a platform here for actors who at least want to explore ideas of how to overcome certain fault lines from conflicts around the world.
This year, we are holding a record number of these meetings that we call Davos diplomacy dialogues. For the conflict in Syria, we are having the UN special envoy for Syria come here and hold a meeting. We are also doing dialogues on Venezuela, the Western Balkans and between Russia and Europe.