Bader Al-Lamki’s mission at Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company Masdar reaches way beyond making a profit

Updated 04 July 2018

Bader Al-Lamki’s mission at Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company Masdar reaches way beyond making a profit

  • Saudi Arabia seen pumping billions more into renewable energy
  • Masdar’s Bader Al-Lamki, below, visited Scotland to launch Batwind, with the potential to unlock more offshore wind farms

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.”

Dubai property developer Damac on hunt for land in Saudi Arabia

Hussain Sajwani
Updated 18 March 2019

Dubai property developer Damac on hunt for land in Saudi Arabia

  • Brexit a “concern” for UK property market says Sajwani
  • Developer mulls investing “up to £500 million” on London project

LONDON: The Dubai-listed developer Damac says it is scouting for additional plots of land in Saudi Arabia, both in established cities and the Kingdom’s emerging giga-projects such as Neom.
Hussain Sajwani, chairman of Damac Properties, also said the company would look to invest up to £500 million ($660 million) on a second development in the UK, and that it is on track to deliver a record 7,000 or more units this year.
Amid a slowing property market in Dubai, Damac’s base, the developer is eying Saudi Arabia as a potential ground for expansion for its high-spec residential projects.
Damac has one development in Jeddah, and a twin-tower project in Riyadh — and Sajwani said it is looking for additional plots in the Kingdom.
“It’s a big market. It is changing, it is opening up, so we see a potential there … We are looking,” he said.
“In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is the biggest economy … They have some very ambitious projects, like the Neom city and other large projects. We’re watching those and studying them very carefully.”
The $500 billion Neom project, which was announced in 2017, is set to be a huge economic zone with residential, commercial and tourist facilities on the Red Sea coast.
Sajwani said doing business in Saudi Arabia was “a bit more difficult or complicated” that the UAE, but said the country is opening up, citing moves to allow women to drive and reopen cinemas.
He was speaking to Arab News in Damac’s London sales office, opposite the Harrods department store in Knightsbridge. The office, kitted out in plush Versace furnishings, is selling units at Damac’s first development in the UK, the Damac Tower Nine Elms London.
The 50-storey development is in a new urban district south of the River Thames, which is also home to the US Embassy and the famous Battersea Power Station, which is being redeveloped as a residential and commercial property.
Work on Damac's tower is underway and is due to complete in late 2020 or early 2021, Sajwani said.
“We have sold more than 60 percent of the project,” he said. “It’s very mixed, we have (buyers) from the UK, from Asia, the Middle East.”
Damac’s first London project was launched in 2015, the year before the referendum on the UK exiting the EU — the result of which has had a knock-on effect on the London property market.
“Definitely Brexit has cause a lot of concern, people are not clear where the situation will go. Overall, the market has suffered because of Brexit,” Sajwani said.
“It’s going to be difficult for the coming two years at least … unless (the UK decides) to stay in the EU.”
Despite the ongoing uncertainty over Brexit, Sajwani said Damac was looking for additional plots of land in London, both in the “golden triangle” — the pricey areas of Mayfair, Belgravia and Knightsbridge, which are popular with Gulf investors — and new residential districts like Nine Elms.
Sajwani is considering an investment of “up to £500 million” on a new project in the UK capital.
“We are looking aggressively, and spending a lot of time … finding other opportunities,” he said. “Our appetite for London is there.”
Damac is also considering other international property markets for expansion, including parts of Europe and North American cities like Toronto, Boston, New York and Miami, Sajwani said.
The international drive by Damac comes, however, amid a tough property market in the developer’s home market of Dubai.
Damac in February reported that its 2018 profits fell by nearly 60 percent, with its fourth-quarter profit tumbling by 87 percent, according to Reuters calculations.
Sajwani — whose company attracted headlines for its partnership with the Trump Organization for two golf courses in Dubai — does not see any immediate recovery in the emirate’s property market, or Damac’s financial results.
“(With) the market being soft, prices being under pressure, we are part of the market — we are not going to do better than last year,” he said. “This year and next year are going to be difficult years. But it’s a great opportunity for the buyers.”
But the developer said Dubai was “very strong fundamentally,” citing factors like its advanced infrastructure, safety and security, and low taxes.
In 2018, Damac delivered over 4,100 units — a record for the company — and this year, despite the difficult market, it plans to hand over even more.
“We’re expecting north of 7,000,” Sajwani said. “This year will be another record.”