PETERHEAD, Scotland: Despite the greyness of the day Bader Al-Lamki is wearing a bright smile. Last week, the executive director for clean energy at Masdar in the UAE left the scorching temperatures of Abu Dhabi to make a flying visit to the windy, cloudy shores of northeast Scotland — where he found something worth smiling about.
The occasion was the inauguration of Batwind, a new battery system for storing and regulating wind power and the first in the world to be directly connected to a floating offshore wind farm.
Physically, there was not much to see: Just two big white cubicles housing a great many switches. The wind turbines making the energy are 30 kilometers out in the North Sea.
But there was plenty to ponder as to what this means for the future of renewable energy, both in environmental and commercial terms. And Masdar — the Abu Dhabi government-owned renewable energy firm — is right at the heart of the conversation.
The largest exporter of renewable energy in the Middle East, the company has been in on the Batwind project from its very inception two years ago, in partnership with energy giants Equinor of Norway. No wonder then that Al-Lamki, 43, made sure he was there in Peterhead on Wednesday for the birth of what he called “a game changer.”
“This is a noble undertaking and it is exciting on multiple levels. This is a first for the world,” he said, sitting in the workmen’s cabin sporting a hard hat and high-visibility jacket over his business suit.
“This is going to redefine new sources of energy and has the potential to unlock more offshore wind farms. It’s a big deal for Masdar.”
A firm set in the hot sands of the Gulf might not seem to be an obvious partner for a company headquartered in the (often) frozen north of Europe. But we should not be fooled by stereotypes, said Al-Lamki.
“We have a lot in common. The DNA that connects us is energy. We are both countries that supply energy to the world. We both have forward-looking leaderships.
“Equinor approached Masdar because they sensed we share a common vision and they’re right. We have already implemented or intend to implement that vision in the UAE.”
Saudi Arabia faces the same challenges as its Gulf neighbor: Decreasing the reliance on oil and working out how to produce, store and deliver energy from renewable sources and turn a profit from doing so. And like all of the Gulf region it has an ample source of one alternative type of energy — the sun.
Is the Kingdom likely to be a participant or partner too? At the beginning of the year, Turki Mohammed Al-Shehri, head of Saudi Arabia’s Renewable Energy Project Development Office, told Bloomberg the country expects to spend up to $7 billion on eight renewable energy projects in 2018.
“There is nothing precise with Saudi Arabia right now and it is really up to the utility players there whether they call on developers like us,” said Al-Lamki. “But if they want to, then Masdar has the credibility. I’m certain that energy storage is the next game changer and we are pioneers.”
The challenge with renewable energy is not producing it, but storing it. The Batwind battery not only stores wind energy, it can calculate peak usage times and when to sell to the national grid for the best price, thus keeping both consumers and energy companies happy.
“The case for renewable fuels was made long ago. It’s not even about cost now,” said Al-Lamki. “Today, solar energy is just as cost-effective as conventional energy from gas in many parts of the world and it will decrease by 60 percent in the next five to six years. The challenge has been to find a way to eliminate the intermittency of supply and to optimize supply.”
But it is not just about the big, groundbreaking projects. While it is Al-Lamki’s responsibility to make money from selling energy, there is a humanitarian aspect to the business.
He speaks with obvious pride and pleasure about the 19,000 homes in rural Morocco that were not connected to the grid that now have power thanks to the solar systems installed by Masdar.
“This has transformed lives,” he said. “Health improves because people can now run a fridge so they can store medicine. Education improves because people can read their books and study after dark. Every aspect of their lives is improved.
“We have installed the same thing in about 6,000 homes in Egypt and 3,000 in Afghanistan. It’s not about the scale of the project, it’s about the impact.”
The company also has renewable energy product projects running in Mauritania, Montenegro, Serbia and Spain.
Jordan has approached Masdar to present a proposal for storing solar energy. On the very day Al-Lamki was in Peterhead for the Batwind inauguration, an email arrived from the Hebrides, the remote group of islands off the northwest coast of Scotland, asking if an energy storage system would benefit them.
For Al-Lamki, the visit to Peterhead was only the latest of many trips to Scotland, trips that he makes every eight weeks or so. Abu Dhabi-born and bred, he graduated from the UAE University with a degree in chemical engineering and began his career in the oil industry. In 2008 he joined Masdar, which is itself only 12 years old, and has headed the renewables division since 2012.
The company’s first cooperation with Equinor was in 2014 with the Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm off the coast of eastern England. Then last October came Hywind, consisting of five turbines now churning the wind 30 km out in the sea off Peterhead, with the electricity stored and regulated by Batwind.
“We have a footprint in 22 countries now. Masdar is a young company growing within a young industry,” said Al-Lamki.
“This sector, renewable energy, works. It’s viable, the business case has been sold. And this message is amplified because it comes from a country that perhaps is not expected to be investing in renewable energy.”